Critical Canine Thinking

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 9:12am

Researchers use MRIs to probe the thought process of dogs.

A dog's affection is hard to miss.

They wag their tails, or even over do it with the sloppy wet kisses.

But do you ever wonder what's going on behind those puppy dog eyes?

Researchers at Emory University are working to find out.

"What we hope to figure out is what is a dog thinking, and more specifically what are dogs thinking when they look at humans," explains Dr. Gregory Burns.

To get the first look at an active dog brain Dr. Berns spent months training two dogs to stay still in an MRI machine.

They used a simulator so the dogs could get used to the small space and loud machine.

The dogs were taught hand signals that indicated treat or no treat.

"What we're discovering is just how sensitive they are to hand signals, body language, and what parts of their brain are processing that," Berns says.

They found the reward center of the dogs' brains lit up when their owner signaled "treat."

"There may be benefits in terms of service dogs, military dogs, therapy dogs to improve training and the bond with humans," Berns adds.

While this is just the first study, the researchers are planning more and they already have willing, treat-hungry participants.

The researchers also hope to study two dogs at once to catch a glimpse at what's going in a dog's brain when they see one of their furry friends, and to determine whether dogs have their own, inter-species language.

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