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First Ever Brain Scans Of Alert, Unrestrained Dogs Unleash Canine Secrets

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Dogs are considered man's best friend. For dog lovers, just a glance at their dog can help them understand what he's thinking. But ever wondered what the actual canine thought processes are? That's what the scientists are seeking to understand, and ultimately get at questions like: Do dogs have empathy? Do they know when their owners are happy or sad? How much language do they really understand?

Researchers at Emory University have developed a new methodology to scan the brains of alert dogs. The technique that uses harmless functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI, decodes the animals' mental processes by recording which areas of their brains are activated by various stimuli.

Note that this is the first time that a brain scan is performed on fully awake and unrestrained dogs.

The aim of this study is to understand the dog-human relationship, from the dog's perspective, says Gregory Berns, director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy and lead researcher of the dog project.

Two dogs are involved in the first phase of the project - both of which are trained to walk into an fMRI scanner and go into the scanner willingly.

In one experiment, the dogs were trained to respond to hand signals. One signal meant the dog would receive a hot dog treat, and another signal meant it would not receive one. The brain scans revealed that the caudate region of the brain, associated with rewards in humans, was activated in both dogs when they saw the signal for the treat, but not for the no-treat signal.

"These results indicate that dogs pay very close attention to human signals. And these signals may have a direct line to the dog's reward system", says Berns.

The reseachers hope that the project will open up a whole new door for understanding canine cognition and inter-species communication.

The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

by RTT Staff Writer

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