Video: Scientists Use Brain Scans Explore How Dogs Think


Written by: Phil Monahan

For the first time in history, as part of a study to understand the human-dog relationship, scientists at Atlanta’s Emory University have generate a scan of a conscious dog’s brain:

“When we saw those first [brain] images, it was unlike anything else,” said lead researcher Gregory Berns in a video interview posted online. “Nobody, as far as I know, had ever captured images of a dog’s brain that wasn’t sedated. This was [a] fully awake, unrestrained dog, here we have a picture for the first time ever of her brain,” added Berns, who is director of the Emory University Center for Neuropolicy.

Two dogs—a feist named Callie and a border collie named McKenzie—were trained to enter a high-tech functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and sit perfectly still. Scientists could then observe how the dogs’r reacted to previously established hand signals that signaled “treat” or “not treat.” These experiemnts are the first step in gaining a much deeper understanding of how our pets see us and relate to our commands, wishes, and emotions.


Callie wears ear protection as she prepares to enter the scanner. The research team includes, from left, Andrew Brooks, Gregory Berns, and Mark Spivak.

photo by Bryan Meltz, Emory University

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