To get inside a live dog’s brain, at least as one scientist sees it, you must first get the dog inside an MRI, which turned out to be a pretty big challenge for researchers at Emory University
In an effort to get a better grasp on what dogs are thinking, Gregory Berns, director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy, sent his own dog and others into an MRI — not with the use of force or restraints, but after training them to willingly enter the noisy, claustrophobia-inducing machine.
That was no simple task, as the video above shows, and as he recounts in the current issue of Psychology Today.
The knowledge gained from all that work? Hardly earth-shattering, but it’s a beginning that could end up leading to some amazing places:
“Critically, we found that the reward system of the dog’s brain behaves very much like the human’s. When Callie and McKenzie saw us giving a hand signal that indicated they were about to receive a hot dog treat, a part of their brain called the caudate lit up with activity. This is the same part of the brain that in humans becomes active when we anticipate something good about to happen. In fairness, this was exactly what we expected, because all animals have reward systems that respond to incentives.”
The research was inspired by the dog that took part in the Navy Seal raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, Berns said:
“This should not have been particularly surprising, and certainly not to anyone associated with the military. Dogs had been part of military units throughout the 20th century. But the fact that a dog had helped kill the most wanted man in the world was something special. It showed that dogs were not just companions. Even though it could have no concept of democracy or freedom or individual liberty, a dog had helped defend a way of life…
“After learning the incredible things these dogs can do, I resolved to figure out what was actually going on in the mind of man’s-best-friend by using the tools of my trade: brain scanning technology.”
Berns started out with his own dog, a feist named Callie, and a border collie named McKenzie. Researchers watched what went on in their brains as they responded to two human hand signals.
But it took a long time to get to that point.
“ … We were naïve, and there were many hurdles. Ultimately, we wanted the dogs to walk up a set of steps into an MRI scanner, and shimmy inside a ‘head coil,’ which detects the signals from the brain but looks like a small birdcage lying on its side. Once in the coil they would need to put their head on a chin rest and remain absolutely motionless. A few millimeters of movement would completely destroy the image quality. And one more thing: when the MRI is running, it sounds like a jackhammer.”
Because of the scanner noise, the dogs had to be trained to wear ear muffs. All the dogs were allowed to quit the experiment at any time. “We used only positive reinforcement,” he said. “Just food and praise.
Berns said the research started year ago and is aimed at answering “the eternal question of what dogs are really thinking. More specifically, we wanted to know what a dog is thinking when it looks at its human owner.”
“As a lifelong dog owner, and currently living with dogs #6 and #7, I would like to think that I know something about what goes on in my dogs’ heads … If you saw me walking the feist you might naturally conclude that I really knew what she was thinking. After all, I talk to her like a person. Never mind that she doesn’t respond. We have developed a relationship that transcends human language. We gaze into each others’ eyes like people do. So surely there must be a bond there.
“Or is it all one-sided? Is the dog-human bond all a sham, albeit one played willingly by both parties, with the dog getting food and shelter in return for making goo-goo eyes at its owner, and the owner getting a simulacrum of undying love?
Berns believes “gazing into our dogs’ brains is like a portal back in time. We now have the tools to see how they see us. We can see the things activating in their heads that our hominid ancestors selected from the dogs’ wolfen brethren. And now we can see it from the dog’s perspective…
“Now we can begin to answer questions like: can dogs map human emotions onto their own feelings, in other words, do they have empathy? How much language do they understand? Just because they don’t speak doesn’t mean they can’t tell what we are saying.”
To learn more about The Dog Project, go here.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 7th, 2012 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, border collie, brains, callie, dog, dog brains, dogs, emory center for neuropolicy, emory university, empathy, experiment, feist, gregory berns, killing, language, mckenzie, mri, neuroscience, osama bin laden, pets, psychology today, raid, relationship, scanner, science, the dog project, training
As in, is it OK to walk my dog here?
We found this one – at a park in Saugerties, New York – particularly baffling.
It could, and probably does, mean swimming, dogs and littering are all prohitited. Then again, it could mean there is no swimming, and dogs are allowed.
Then again it could mean swimming dogs are not allowed. Or, one final interpretation, it could mean swimming dogs are allowed, but they shouldn’t litter while they are doing so.
We went with the first interpretation, and moved on.
Posted by jwoestendiek October 18th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, animals, confusing, dog's country, dogs, dogs allowed, dogscountry, english, language, new york, no dogs allowed, no!, park, parks, pets, road trip, saugerties, sign, signage, signs, swimming, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace
“On Proper English Yousage”
The English language
Takes abuses — south and north
From ya’lls to youses
Posted by jwoestendiek September 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abuses, dog's country, dogscountry, haiku, highway, highway haiku, language, poetry, road trip, travels with ace, ya'll, youse
A former University of Georgia professor and his wife found dead along the highway Saturday morning were apparently killed by a pack of dogs, according to the state medical examiner.
Lothar Karl Schweder, 77, who had taught German at the university, and his wife, Sherry Schweder, 65, who worked at the university’s main library, were found on a road where they often walked their own dogs, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The couple were found by visiting Jehovah’s Witness members.
After an autopsy Monday morning, Oglethorpe County Coroner James Mathews told the University of Georgia student newspaper, The Red & Black, that a dog attack was to blame.
“It was the results of a brutal dog attack,” Mathews said. “Without being graphic there were bites from head to toe… There are a lot of weird circumstances with this one. I’ve been coroner for 28 years, and this is one of the weirdest cases I’ve investigated.”
The state Bureau of Investigation responded to a call about the bodies around 10 a.m. Saturday morning.
Oglethorpe County animal control officials were out Monday looking for the dogs in the area, along Highway 77, near Highway 78.
Posted by jwoestendiek August 17th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: attack, autopsy, brutal, dogs, german, jehovan's witness, killed, language, library, lothar karl schweder, mauled, professor, schweder, sherry schweder, university of georgia, wild dogs
So, if there’s no deep meaning behind barks (not that we buy that study), how do you explain this?
Japanese toymaker Takara Tomy is coming out with a new “Bowlingual” gadget that can translate dog barks into the human language, AFP reports.
The new model analyzes six emotions, including joy, sadness and frustration, and speaks phrases such as “Play with me!” — an improvement on the original which just showed them on a screen.
The original version of the toy, which has a handset and a microphone attached to a dog collar, won the Ig Nobel Prize in 2002. The awards, a parody of the Nobel Prizes, celebrate achievements that make people laugh and think.
The new Bowlingual Voice, priced at about $212, will be launched in Japan next month, Yamada said.
Initially, it will be only available in Japanese. The original non-speaking version is also available in English and Korean.
Posted by jwoestendiek July 23rd, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: bark, barking, barks, bowlingual, dog, dogs, gadget, human, language, meaning, noise, sounds, studies, takara tomy, toy, translate, translating, words
(Today, ohmidog! kicks off a new feature, a monthly column on dog training and behavior, written by Lauren Bond and Carolyn Stromer of B-More Charming School for Dogs. To keep up with their reports, click on the Behave! tab on the right side rail.)
I’m sure that by now just about every dog person has seen the movie “Marley and Me.” We laughed, we cried, then we cried some more.
Some experienced dog owners, and trainers like ourselves, have even offered our two cents about Marley’s upbringing, saying that his owners were irresponsible, that if we owned a dog like that we would most certainly have put him in his place. We wouldn’t have allowed our couch to be eaten, or our drapes to be torn down, or our gold necklace to go in one end of the dog and come out of the other.
But the truth is we have all been there.
We’ve all been first-time dog owners, overwhelmed, unsure where to turn. Some of us, even by our third or fourth dog, remain that way.
Why won’t he get off of the furniture? Why do my shoes, hairbrush, wallet, cell phone, (insert object of choice here) always wind up in his mouth? Why can’t I come home, just once, to the trash can being upright, untouched, with all of the trash still inside? How come my “NO’S!” and “STOP ITS!” only lead to a game of catch-me-if-you-can? Is it really too much to ask of man’s best friend that he just be calm, listen to what I tell him and lay quietly at my feet waiting for further instructions?
To be completely honest … yes, it is.
Think back to the day you brought your first puppy home. He didn’t come with an instruction manual. Maybe, at best, the shelter gave you a brochure, or some information on his vaccine record and what kind of food and toys he liked. But there was nothing on how to influence his behavior, no foolproof tips for getting him to stop jumping all over guests when they walk through the front door. Or teaching him to walk nicely on leash. Or keeping him from chewing up your new Blackberry.
You might have tried staying one step ahead by reading up on dog behavior before you brought him home. There’s a ton of conventional wisdom out there, books galore, dog magazines and an entire Animal Network. How could you go wrong?
Posted by jwoestendiek January 19th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: advice, b-more charming, behave!, behavior, carolyn stromer, chewing, column, communicate, destruction, dog, dogs, housetraining, language, lauren bond, marley & me, monthly, no!, obedience, ohmidog!, puppies, scolding, train, trainers, training, wisdom