Over time our pets have developed their own special ways of telling us what they want, whether it's your dog bringing you their lead for 'walkies' or your moggie meowing at the cat food to tell you it's dinner time.

However, imagine if you could really tell what your pet was thinking when they gaze at you with those big brown eyes. Well, if recent research is anything to go by, we might soon be able to.

In the quest to understand what our furry friends really think about us, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta are carrying out studies by scanning the minds of dogs using harmless functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - the same method used to look inside human brains.

"We hope this opens up a whole new door for inter-species communication," said Gregory Berns, lead researcher and director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy. "We want to understand our relationship, from the dog's perspective."

The first phase of the study involved two dogs who were carefully trained over several months to walk calmly into the MRI scanner and to lie still while the scientists measured their neural activity.

Mr Berns' two-year-old rescue dog Callie was one of the canines to be scanned, while the other was three-year-old McKenzie, a Border Collie already trained in agility competition.

This experiment consisted of monitoring the dogs' brains to assess how they reacted to hand signals given by their owners, the results of which will be published in the Public Library of Science.

"It was amazing to see the first brain images of a fully awake, unrestrained dog," Mr Berns added. "As far as we know, no one has been able to do this previously.

"These results indicate that dogs pay very close attention to human signals - and these signals may have a direct line to the dog's reward system."

Written by: Hannah