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 Reports HERE.
Top image of some very good study participants: Dr. Gregory Berns, Emory University.