While the direct impact of pet ownership on one’s health may be hard to prove, there’s little doubt that the special relationship between owner and dog plays a very therapeutic roles in our lives.
In fact, that special relationship has spawned a popular saying, “I only want to be as good a person as my dog thinks I am.”
Wouldn’t it be great if, when Fido looks sweetly into your face and cocks his little head sideways, you could know whether he was communicating his affection for you or only wishing for another tasty treat? Thanks to research at Emory University, researchers may soon be able to explore and understand the mind of man’s best friend and help you answer that question.
After developing new methodology using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (the same technique that unlocked the secrets of the human brain), scientists were able to scan the brains of alert dogs who were trained to hold their heads perfectly still on a chin rest during the scanning process. The four-legged participants also wore earmuffs to protect them from the noise of the scanner.
Dog lovers may not need convincing on the merits of researching the minds of our canine companions.
“To the skeptics out there, and the cat people, I would say that dogs are the first domesticated species, going back at least 10,000 years, and by some estimates 30,000 years,” said Gregory Berns, director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy and lead researcher of the dog project. “The dog’s brain represents something special about how humans and animals came together. It’s possible that dogs have even affected human evolution. People who took dogs into their homes and villages may have had certain advantages. As much as we made dogs, I think dogs probably made some part of us, too.”
All procedures for the dog project were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Emory.