SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – Dr. Greg Berns of Emory University wants to prove that a dog really does understand what its owner is saying to them.
“The more I study dogs and the more I study their brains, the more similarities I see to human brains,” Berns told WGCL-TV. “They are intelligent, they are emotional, and they’ve been ignored in terms of research and understanding how they think. So, we are all interested in trying to develop ways to understand how their minds work.”
Berns uses an MRI to test a dog’s brain.
“So, we’ve done experiments where we present odors to the dogs and these are things like the scent of other people in their house, the scent of other dogs in the house, as well as strange people and strange dogs,” Berns said. “And so what we found in that experiment is that the dogs reward processing center, so basically the part of the brain that is kind of the positive anticipation of things responds particularly strongly to the scent of their human.”
Berns used a testing center in Sandy Springs for the evaluation process. People brought their dogs for the testing.
“They need to be diligent with their homework,” Berns told WGCL. “They need to be diligent with their rapport with their dogs and the right rappart.”
Berns put the dogs through a set of training sessions, which included climbing steps, walking up and down narrow pathways, entering and remaining in an enclosure, and loud sounds of various pitches.
The next step is the MRI. The dog must sit absolutely still for up to 20 minutes.
Berns hoped to identify which dogs would be excellent in different services, such as Seeing Eye dogs, bomb sniffing dogs, and military dogs.
“Currently, we are trying to understand what dogs perceive about the world,” Berns told WGCL. “You know, what do they see when they see humans, dogs, other animals, cars, etc. so the idea is, at least in humans and even in certain chimpanzees and monkeys, there are parts of the brain specialized for visual processing of all of these things and so what we are trying to determine is whether a dog has that sam ekind of specialization. Nobody knows. Understanding how that dog’s brain works can only help that dog be happier and more productive in its role serving man.
Berns is currently conducting testing and is looking for volunteers. Dogs must be between the ages of 2 and 9.
If you would like to volunteer, you can contact him at gregoryberns.com or call 404-236-2150.