If your pet could really speak to you, what do you think it would say? Would it think you are a nice person? Would it be sulking because you don’t let it chew on your shoes?
Pet owners often think they know what their companion is thinking or feeling, but now there is evidence of what a pet is really thinking thanks to new research involving pet brain scans.
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta have scanned the brains of alert dogs using a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the same machine that is used to scan human brains.
Dogs Trained To Enjoy Scanning
Two dogs were involved in the project – both trained over several months to walk into an fMRI scanner and hold completely still while researchers measured their neural activity.
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 region of the dogs’ brain associated with rewards in humans showed activation in both dogs when they saw the signal for the treat, but not for the no-treat signal, indicating the dogs paid close attention to the signals.
According to the researchers, dogs are the first domesticated species, going back at least 10,000 years, and by some estimates 30,000 years. The dog’s brain represents something special about how humans and animals came together, they say, and it’s possible that dogs have affected human evolution.
Dog On Bin Laden Raid
The idea for the dog project came to the researchers about a year ago, when they learned that a U.S. Navy dog had been a member of the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden.
The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Emory University approved all procedures for the dog project.
The dogs were trained to wear earmuffs, to protect them from the noise of the scanner. They were also taught to hold their heads perfectly still on a chin rest during the scanning process, to prevent blurring of the images.
So, what does this mean for pet owners? Well, you can’t go to your local hospital and ask them to scan the brain of your pet. Nor can you purchase your own MRI machine – unless you have a spare several hundred thousand dollars you are not using. Until you can afford it, or until a vet offers such a service, you’ll have to settle for Fido’s wagging tail to know if he or she is happy with your selection of dog food.
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