Today, believe it or not, is Take Your Dog To Work Day. This day was initiated by Pet Sitters International, and has been celebrated since 1999.
The rationale behind the day is the celebration of the human-canine bond, and the promotion of pet adoption by making life – including the workplace – more accepting to pets, in particular dogs. Employers are encouraged to open their workplace to employees’ pets on this special day.
Seems a good enough idea, doesn’t it? I think the following bit of research has the potential to further promote and enhance the human-canine bond:
According to a recent article in Scientific American, scientists have (pun alert!) embarked on a study of dogs’ thoughts, by means of fMRI brain scans of unsedated dogs. The research team says this provides a first peak into the thought processes of dogs.
Of course the key problem in scanning the brain of an fully awake, unrestrained dog, is that the animal is unlikely to remain still for the duration of the scan. However, after seeing the level of training achieved with dogs in the US Navy, lead researcher Gregory Berns from the Emory University Center for Neuropolicy, felt they should be able to train a dog to behave inside the fMRI.
Two dogs – a 2-year old feist and a 3-year old border collie – were trained to walk into the scanner and remain still while being scanned. In addition, they were trained to respond to certain hand signals – one indicating the dog was about to receive a treat, and the other that it wasn’t.
Recognition of the “treat” signal caused activity in the caudate region of the dogs’ brains – a region also associated with reward in the human brain.
While this can perhaps be viewed as a rather simplistic result, it is early-stage canine neuro-research, and it does open the door for further studies into canine cognition, for example how they respond to human facial expressions, and how they process human speech.
Such research could definitely shed new light on the 15 000 year old human-canine bond – perhaps it can even help explain why certain people prefer certain breeds.