Darpa Is Reading Dog’s Minds

Dogs are service-members’ best friends. They do all sorts of tasks both for the active-duty guy over there and the medically-retired guy (or gal) over here. Why not read their minds:

U.S. Air Force Military Working Dog Suk waits to begin a day of training and patroling at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.,
U.S. Air Force Military Working Dog Suk waits at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.,

Dogs do it all for the military: sniff for bombs, detect narcotics and rescue hapless humans. But to recruit the best canine squadmates, the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers are working on a plan to scan their brains — and figure out how dogs think. Belly rubs won’t cut it anymore.

According to a new research solicitation from Darpa, the project — adorably called FIDOS, for “Functional Imaging to Develop Outstanding Service-Dogs” — touts the idea of using magnetic image resonators (or MRIs) to “optimize the selection of ideal service dogs” by scanning their brains to find the smartest candidates. “Real-time neural feedback” will optimize canine training. That adds up to military pooches trained better, faster and — in theory — at a lower cost than current training methods of $20,000, using the old-fashioned methods of discipline-and-reward.

Though it’s still very much in the research stage, the plan owes many of its underpinnings to several recent discoveries about the brains of our canine friends.

Last year, Emory University neuroscientist Greg Berns and his colleagues trained dogs to sit unrestrained inside an MRI machine, shown hand signals associated with a food reward, and then scanned. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers noticed increased brain activity in the dogs’ ventral caudate, a region of the brain associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine.

I imagine “reading” a dog’s mind would go something like: where is my food?, need to scratch, bathroom!, food, hungry over here, gotta scratch, more scratch, oh what is that smell?, food, need me some food, bathroom, a female dog?, food, food, need to scratch!

In other pooch news, a blind Husky named Gonzo and his brother Poncho are still out there mushing. And Lennox, a boxer plagued with cancer, gets one last meal.

4 thoughts on “Darpa Is Reading Dog’s Minds”

  1. I have three old dogs. One is a totally blind terrier who still get around. But her days are numbered, I am afraid. Hell, all my dogs days are numbered. I have a chocolate labe who is 15 years old and dumb as dirt, but loves to be loved on. The third dog is a solid whit Grand Pyrenees/Lab mix who is 12 years old and so dam smart she amazes me all the time. So I can attest to the affects of a dog on the human spirit. And they are using them to keep watch over epileptics as the seem to know when a seizure is about to happen. So the more we know about the abilities of dogs the better off we will be.

  2. I have had dogs all my life from the time I was nine years old with the first cocker spaniel….and cats while in the military…their purpose in life is for us to love them and watch over their comings and goings, try to house train them (not much luck on the last two canines) and make sure they know how much we care….they give us unconditional love and lick us to death…other than that, I couldn’t live without the current two we’ve had since their puppyhood….they’re both very smart and know at a minimum when our anger is directed at them; and hide to prove it….k

  3. Lou: Squirrel? Where?
    CP: Those are some good dogs you got. I’ll bet that GP/Lab mix is a great pal.
    CP: No luck training Louie and Lucy? Awwww. . .

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