Innovative Canine Neuroscience

How fMRI Research is Improving Our Ability to: Select Dogs for Working Roles, Train Working and Pet Dogs, and Improve Our Dogs' Quality of Life

There is an old joke that if you ask 10 dog trainers a question you will receive 10 different opinions. Moreover, when pet owners, dog trainers, behaviorists, and veterinarians apply science to dog training or behavior, frequently the accepted analysis is affected by subjective interpretation. However, recent innovations in canine neuroscience provide insightful methodologies for improving our empirical understanding of how behavior and learning affect canine brain activity and how brain activity affects canine behavior and learning.

This is a recording of a LIVE webinar event that was held Wednesday, June 15th, 2016. Questions were be accepted throughout the presentation. Approximate recording length is 105 minutes.

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In this webinar you will learn about the novel technique of awake, non-restrained canine fMRI and its advantages to conventional methods of studying canine behavior. We'll discuss how researchers have ingeniously trained dogs to cooperatively and humanely enter an MRI and remain motionless, providing noninvasive neurological data. We'll discuss what awake canine fMRI studies have already taught us about canine cognition, emotions, sensory perception, receptive communication, and inhibitory control, and where our newfound knowledge of dog behavior and learning is providing practical applications for improving research, veterinary care, training, behavior modification, and product development pertinent to pet dogs, competition dogs, service dogs, and working dogs.

  • The advantages of canine neuroscience in better understanding the physiology and psychology of behavior and learning.
  • The advantages of fMRI versus alternative imaging techniques for understanding the interactions between behavior/learning and brain activity.
  • Historical methods of animal fMRI research prior to the advent of awake, non-restrained canine fMRI.
  • The difficulties researchers had to overcome to make awake, non-restrained canine fMRI viable.
  • The evolution of the training process that taught a diverse set of community dogs to cooperatively enter the MRI environment and remain absolutely motionless.
  • The equipment required to humanely train and scan dogs.
  • Back-end technical and analytical difficulties surmounted by the research team so that equipment and a process previously reserved for humans could be humanely and accurately employed with dogs.
  • Issues relevant to selecting and training candidate dogs.
  • What we have learned to advance knowledge regarding canine cognition, emotions, sensory perception, receptive communication, and inhibitory control.
  • Practical applications for the research:
    • more effectively identifying candidates for service dog and working dog roles
    • empirically validating the performance of products marketed to relieve canine stress
    • improving canine brain mapping
    • employing awake fMRI to better study common CNS conditions, such as canine epilepsy- and in measuring the success of treatment for such conditions
    • safer and lower cost non-sedated veterinary management and monitoring of neoplasia and other chronic canine health conditions
    • developing customized training protocols optimal for the temperament and preferences of individual dogs
    • developing products that more effectively alleviate canine anxiety


Mark Spivak is a research consultant on the Emory University team using fMRI technology in canine neuroscience, and co-author of the resultant ground-breaking papers. Mark co-founded Dog Star Technologies with Dr. Gregory Berns, MD, PhD, the Chair of the Emory Center for Neuroeconomics and Neuropolicy. Dog Star's primary mission is to conduct government and privately funded canine neuroscience research that increases the understanding of canine cognition, emotions, sensory reception, receptive communication, and inhibitory control. The company has received a $1 million contract from DARPA to study fMRI biomarkers and electronic activity sensors that improve the identification of candidate service dogs. Mark is also the President of Comprehensive Pet Therapy (CPT), a company of 10 elite animal behaviorists and trainers in the Atlanta area.


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