Animal Cognition

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 867–878 | Cite as

Neurobehavioral evidence for individual differences in canine cognitive control: an awake fMRI study

  • Peter F. CookEmail author
  • Mark Spivak
  • Gregory Berns
Original Paper


Based on behavioral evidence, the domestic dog has emerged as a promising comparative model of human self-control. However, while research on human inhibition has probed heterogeneity and neuropathology through an integration of neural and behavioral evidence, there are no parallel data exploring the brain mechanisms involved in canine inhibition. Here, using a combination of cognitive testing and awake neuroimaging in domestic dogs, we provide evidence precisely localizing frontal brain regions underpinning response inhibition in this species and demonstrate the dynamic relationship between these regions and behavioral measures of control. Thirteen dogs took part in an in-scanner go/no-go task and an out-of-scanner A-not-B test. A frontal brain region was identified showing elevated neural activity for all subjects during successful inhibition in the scanner, and dogs showing greater mean brain activation in this region produced fewer false alarms. Better performance in the go/no-go task was also correlated with fewer errors in the out-of-scanner A-not-B test, suggesting that dogs show consistent neurobehavioral individual differences in cognitive control, as is seen in humans. These findings help establish parity between human and canine mechanisms of self-control and pave the way for future comparative studies examining their function and dysfunction.


Self-control Motor inhibition Prefrontal cortex Individual differences Dog cognition Comparative cognition fMRI Neuroimaging 



This work was supported by the Office of Naval Research (N00014-13-1-0253).

Author contributions

All authors contributed to study concept and design and data collection. P. F. Cook and G. Berns performed data analysis. P. F. Cook drafted the manuscript, and G. Berns and M. Spivak provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

G Berns and M. Spivak own equity in Dog Star Technologies and developed technology used in some of the research described in this paper. The terms of this arrangement have been reviewed and approved by Emory University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

Ethical approval

This study was performed in strict accordance with the recommendations in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of the National Institutes of Health. The study was approved by the Emory University IACUC (Protocol #DAR-2001274-120814BA). These guidelines are consistent with the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour/Animal Behavior Society guidelines.

Informed consent

All dogs’ owners gave written consent for participation in the study. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

Supplementary Video 1: Go-No-Go:

This video demonstrates successful neutral, no-go and go trials, as well as a typical false alarm response on a no-go trial. Here the dog (“Callie”) is performing the task in her custom-made chin rest in a training context. (MP4 6475 kb)

Supplementary Video 2: A-Not-B:

This video demonstrates the test phase of the A-not-B procedure with one dog (“Stella”). After three trials of familiarization to location A, the dog is tested in her ability to switch to location B. (MP4 18519 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Comprehensive Pet TherapySandy SpringsUSA

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