Why did you decide to only use positive training techniques with Callie and the other dogs?
Because it is the right thing to do. Besides, if we used aversive techniques, all we would have gotten were fearful dogs in the scanner. Fear trumps all other emotions and cognition.
Where is the Dog Project now? What more do you hope to achieve with it?
It continues to grow. We have 25 community dog-human teams in the project. Half of the dogs are “MRI-certified” and have done several cognitive experiments in the scanner. In addition to smell, we’ve been studying the relative reward-response to owner versus an unfamiliar human versus an inanimate object giving signals, like a computer. This will tell us more precisely how socially attuned the dogs are. We’re also studying the differences between the dogs – why some have greater responses than others. We have several service/therapy dogs on the team, and it is beginning to look like their brains react differently than the other dogs. We also hope to study separation anxiety. So many questions!
If there is only one “take away” readers can take from your work, what would you hope that to be?
Dogs’ brains react in many of the same ways that humans’ brains do. We like many of the same things, and dogs value social bonds just like us. Dogs’ superior social intelligence is what makes them dogs!