In the ongoing effort to understand what our pets are thinking, researchers have been performing MRI scans on dogs’ brains for the past several years. A recent canine brain scan study conducted by scientists at Emory University may help determine which dogs will make the best service dogs.
43 service dogs in training with the organization Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) underwent MRI scans to determine what makes a successful service dog. While all the dogs in the study had outwardly calm temperaments, the scans revealed that some of the dogs had higher levels of activity in the area of the brain associated with excitability. These dogs were more likely to fail the training program.
Scanning potential service dogs early in the training process could be very beneficial for organizations like CCI, since it can cost as much as $50,000 to fully train one dog. 70% of dogs that start a training program will drop out due to behavioral issues. Since there are always waiting lists for good service dogs, it would be efficient to weed out problematic candidates at the beginning.
Without the MRI scan, the early identification of dogs that would ultimately fail training had a 47% success rate. With the scan, the predictability of failure went up to a 67% success rate.
How did researchers test the dogs? While in the MRI machine, dogs were given hand signals for “treat” or “no treat.” The successful service dog candidates did show activity in a part of the brain associated with rewards when given the sign for “treat” but they did not show excessive activity in the excitability area of the brain. In contrast, the less successful candidates showed more excitability with the “treat” signal, including when signaled by strangers, a trait which trainers consider to be a red flag for service dogs.
Interested in learning more? You can read the full text of the article on the website for Scientific ReportsHERE.
Top image of some very good study participants: Dr. Gregory Berns, Emory University.
Recently FACE received a wonderful thank you letter from a truly special grantee. Meet Kenneth and his service dog Sampson. FACE provides financial assistance for emergency veterinary care to qualified pet owners…and some of these pets happen to be service dogs like Sampson! Ken receives life-saving support from Sampson. Ken has multiple health challenges, and Sampson provides comfort and assistance on many levels. Not only is Sampson a diabetic alert dog, he also helps Ken get around in his motorized wheel chair and provides emotional support too. Ken is hard of hearing and taught Sampson American Sign Language, so Sampson alerts Ken to the phone and doorbell as well.
Meet a few more FACE success stories who also happen to be very special assistance animals like Sampson!
Bella Amia is a registered service dog for her disabled owner. Bella developed a cancerous tumor and the cost of surgery was more than her owner could afford on a fixed income. FACE stepped in to help Bella…thanks to generous pet cancer grant funding from the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo.
Pete provides emotional support to a young girl who has cerebral palsy. After he broke his leg, Pete’s owner, a single mom, needed some financial assistance for his surgery. With a FACE grant, Pete was able to get his surgery, much to the relief of his loving family.
Rascull is an emotional support dog for a disabled senior who struggles with some mental health issues. Rascull swallowed something he shouldn’t have and needed surgery his owner couldn’t afford. Knowing how important Rascull was to his mom, his vet called FACE and we were able to provide assistance to save his life.
Meet Joshua! Joshua is truly an exceptional dog with an exceptional story. This adorable Lab mix has long been a service dog for his loving owner who spends all of her spare time trying to fund-raise for his medical issues. When Joshua’s “mom” found out that he had complicated foot issues which were impairing his ability to walk, she was devastated thinking about how long it would take her to come up with the full amount to get it fixed. As she was speaking with the lovely staff at Carlsbad Animal Hospital, a local councilman overheard her story. He was so touched that he generously offered to pay for the entire cost of Joshua’s treatment! Thanks to Carlsbad Animal Hospital, Veterinary Specialty Hospital and to this outstanding donor, Joshua is now on the right course to recovery.