National Geographic : 2017 Oct
PHOTO: ELKE VOGELSANG | EXPLORE | ANIMALS smells. Activity in the reward center can show whether dogs prefer human affection to food (most like both equally), and which ones may not be fit for duty as service dogs (if, for example, they get too anxious or excited with strangers). Now Berns wants to know how dogs learn human language: “When a dog hears a word, is it just an auditory stim- ulus, or does it go deeper to have some sort of meaning?” To find out, he’s spent a year watching dogs’ brain activity while they hear familiar and nonsense words. Because canine brain structures and processes are potentially as unique and complex as ours, it will require years of tests to decipher how they work. “When we talk about ‘dogs,’ that’s about as de- scriptive as talking about ‘people,’” says Berns. “Dogs are just as different from each other as humans are.” When a dog leaped from a helicopter to accompany the U.S. SEAL team on the raid of Osama bin Laden’s complex in 2011, Gregory Berns was inspired. “I thought, If dogs can jump out of heli- copters, we can train them to go into an MRI,” he recalls. The next year the neuroscientist launched the Dog Project at Emory University, which was the first to teach dogs to lie still without sedation in an MRI scanner so their brains can be studied. By peering into a dog’s brain, re- searchers are able to see how it reacts to stimuli like hand signals, sounds, and GETTING INSIDE FIDO’S HEAD By Nina Strochlic THE SCIENCE OF DOGS Baby Talk Like human infants, puppies re- spond better to high- pitched human speech than to low-pitched. Researchers in New York and France found that pitch may actually help puppies learn words—but by adult- hood, dogs no longer prefer a higher octave. In the Groove Humans and their ca- nine companions both find solace in music. Researchers from the University of Glasgow put on five different playlists for kennel dogs while monitoring their stress. Although reactions differed, the music had a calming effect—particularly soft rock and reggae. Test Tube Pups After decades of test- ing, researchers at the Smithsonian Institution and Cornell University produced a litter of pups using in vitro fertilization. Scientists hope to apply the tech- nique to tackle genetic diseases that dogs and humans share. In the Family When it comes to social intelli- gence, toddlers show patterns more similar to dogs than to chim- panzees, even though chimps are more close- ly related to humans. In some communication tasks, University of Arizona scientists found that both dogs and kids performed better than chimps.