The subtitle of this book is ‘A Neuroscientist and his dog decode the canine brain’. Gregory Berns – the neuroscientist in question – has done years of MRI work to help understand how the human brain works, but as a dog lover, he wanted to learn how a dog’s brain works. After first determining that such a thing could even be done, he and his team at Emory University came up with methods of doing MRI scans on a canine brain. He leads the reader through the initial idea, right through the various difficulties they had to overcome (for example, from being given the go-ahead to do the experiment in the first place, or training dogs how to lie absolutely still in the MRI scanner.
The two dogs who participate in the experiment are Callie, Berns’ own adopted mix-breed, and McKenzie, the Border Collie owned by a friend of a friend. Berns describes the scientific aspects of the experiment, including how an MRI works and is used, and while the narrative sometimes necessarily becomes quite technical, it was explained simply enough for someone like me – with not the best grasp of scientific concepts – and didn’t lose me or bore me along the way.
Stories about Berns’ family life and his two dogs – as well as Callie, they have a Golden Retriever named Lyra – keep the story bouncing along, and underline the fact that while he is a scientist, he is also a dog lover, with the greatest respect for their happiness and well-being. For that reason, he was determined that the experiment should not be detrimental to the dogs in any way, and that they should be allowed to not participate if that was what they chose.
It’s a fascinating study, and the telling of it is engaging and, for the most part, upbeat. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in this particular branch of science, but also for any dog lovers. Very enjoyable.
(Author’s website can be found here.)