Dog Brain Scans: A Kibble for Your Thoughts

Progress Reported in Dog Brain Research

Canine brain scans might unlock some of the mystery of what a dog is thinking.

Researchers at Emory University have captured images of the canine brain using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the same technology used on humans to measure brain activity.

Two dogs were examined in the study. Using a replica of the scanner and a lot of treats, the dogs were trained to willingly enter the fMRI scanner, rest their head on a chin rest, and remain still while the device took pictures of their brain.

“It was amazing to see the first brain images of a fully awake, unrestrained dog,” said Gregory Berns, director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy and lead researcher. “We hope this opens up a whole new door for understanding canine cognition and interspecies communication. We want to understand the dog-human relationship from the dog’s perspective.”

The first experiment showed the dogs’ neurological reactions to human hand signals—the dogs received a treat for one hand signal but not for the other. Brain images revealed that the caudate region (associated with rewards in human brains) activated when dogs saw the hand signal for a treat.

Researchers hope the fMRI will reveal whether dogs experience deeper emotions, such as empathy.