I doubt anyone who's owned a dog hasn't occasionally wondered what the dog is thinking. Dogs are an emotive species, with ample facial muscles to show fear, anger, excitement and even joy (have you ever owned a dog that smiled?). There are, of course, trainers who run into trouble when they too closely assign human emotions to their animals. Dogs don't entirely mirror us with their thoughts and emotions. They're dogs. Remember that.
To better understand the canine mind is to grow as a dog trainer, whether your goal is household obedience or a polished retriever. And new dog brain scans appear poised to completely change our understanding of how our dogs' brains function. For the first time ever, researchers have captured brain images of fully awake, non-sedated dogs.
"Now we can really begin to understand what dogs are thinking," said Gregory Berns, director of the Emory University Center for Neucropolicy. "We hope this opens a whole new door into canine cognition."
Researchers determined, for instance, that when a human verbal cue indicates to dogs that they're about to receive a treat, their brains showed activity in a region associated with rewards in humans.
The researchers think the findings open the door for further studies of canine cognition that could answer questions about humans' deep connection with dogs, including how dogs represent human facial expressions in their minds and how they process human language.
With such an evolutionary history between man and man's best friend, the studies, the researchers point out, "may provide a unique mirror into the human mind," they write.
"The dog's brain represents something special about how humans and animals came together. It’s possible that dogs have even affected human evolution," Berns said.
If they scanned your dog, what do you suppose his or her thoughts would reveal?