The mouth matters most: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study of how dogs perceive inanimate objects

J Comp Neurol. 2021 Aug 1;529(11):2987-2994. doi: 10.1002/cne.25142. Epub 2021 Mar 25.


The perception and representation of objects in the world are foundational to all animals. The relative importance of objects' physical properties versus how the objects are interacted with continues to be debated. Neural evidence in humans and nonhuman primates suggests animate-inanimate and face-body dimensions of objects are represented in the temporal cortex. However, because primates have opposable thumbs and interact with objects in similar ways, the question remains as to whether this similarity represents the evolution of a common cognitive process or whether it reflects a similarity of physical interaction. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in dogs to test whether the type of interaction affects object processing in an animal that interacts primarily with its mouth. In Study 1, we identified object-processing regions of cortex by having dogs passively view movies of faces and objects. In Study 2, dogs were trained to interact with two new objects with either the mouth or the paw. Then, we measured responsivity in the object regions to the presentation of these objects. Mouth-objects elicited significantly greater activity in object regions than paw-objects. Mouth-objects were also associated with activity in somatosensory cortex, suggesting dogs were anticipating mouthing interactions. These findings suggest that object perception in dogs is affected by how dogs expect to interact with familiar objects.

Keywords: FMRI; dog; object; perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Mouth / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Somatosensory Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*