Emery University researchers work to answer: What are dogs thinking?

Researchers find dog's are most sensitive to signals, body language from humans

DETROIT - There is no denying dogs are man's, and woman's, best friend despite the fact we can't actually vocally speak to one another.

Researchers at Emery University are working to answer the question every dog owner has pondered: What is my dog thinking?

"What we hope to figure out is what is a dog thinking, and more specifically what are dogs thinking when they look at humans?" said Dr. Gregory Burns, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of neuroeconomics at Emery.

To get the first look at an active dog brain, Dr. Berns spent months training two dogs to stay still in a MRI machine. The dogs were taught hand signals that indicated treat or no treat.

"What we're discovering is just how sensitive they are to hand signals, body language and what parts of their brain are processing that," said Berns.

Researchers found the reward center of a dog's brain lit up when his owner signaled treat.

"There may be benefits in terms of service dogs, military dogs, therapy dogs to improve training and the bond with humans," said Berns.

The researchers at Emery also hope to study two dogs at once to catch a glimpse of what is going on in a dog's brain when they see each other and to determine whether dogs have their own language.

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