Good Dog! Study Reveals Canines Can Understand Some Words

Christopher Davidson
October 20, 2018

If you're a dog person who has suspected that your four-legged friend may know exactly what you mean when you use certain words or phrases-for example "toy", or "car", or maybe even "who's the good boy?"

Researchers observed that the dogs displayed greater brain activation to the made-up words than the ones they'd been trained to recognise. "Dogs may have varying capacity and motivation for learning and understanding human words but they appear to have a neural representation for the meaning of words they have been taught, beyond just a low-level Pavlovian response", said Berns. The scientists think that spike in brain activity is the dogs' attempt to understand what the owners want them to. We tell dogs what to do, whether it to sit, stay, or come here, but these are commands they are conditioned to obey.

Pritchard said, 'We expected to see that dogs neurally discriminate between words that they know and words that they don't. The latest findings - published Monday in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience - prove dogs experience an opposite effect. Do we ever think about how much of human speech dogs can comprehend? Prichard is a doctoral student at Emory University who specializes in studying the neural mechanisms underlying perception and decision-making in dogs using "awake fMRI".

Twelve dogs of varying breeds were trained for months by their owners to retrieve two different objects, based on the objects' names.

The brain activity of dogs were studied by means of the scanner of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Eddie (pictured) heard his owner say the words "piggy" and "monkey" as the matching item was held up. They were rewarded with food or praise and training was considered complete when the dogs were able to correctly associate the word with the object and "consistently [fetch] the one requested by the owner when presented with both of the objects".

Burns and his colleagues tested the results of these observations, which gathered a group of about a dozen dogs of different breeds and their owners.

The results showed greater activation in auditory regions of the brain to the novel invented words compared to the trained words.

At the very least, dogs can distinguish new words from those they have already learnt and heard before, concluded the study while making no imperative statement on human language being the best mode of communication between pet owners and dogs. This is a fascinating insight into how dogs understand the way we speak to them.

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Clark has had some treatment for a muscle problem, he is not available. Benitez said: " Now he's OK, and he has been training this week.

The other half of the dogs, however, showed heightened activity to novel words in other brain regions, including the other parts of the left temporal cortex and amygdala, caudate nucleus, and the thalamus.

The researchers hypothesize that the dogs may show greater neural activation to a new, unknown word because they sense their owners want them to understand what they are saying, and they are trying to do so.

Dogs are more likely to understand physical cues than actual words.

If you are wondering how these people got the dogs got into the MRI machine, all 12 of the doggos had participated in training for other fMRI experiments.

They even process the spoken word in a similar way to humans - and in the same area of the brain, say scientists.

While humans will always default to verbal commands for their pets, this study underscores the fact that language isn't the best way to communicate with a dog. "From the dog's perspective, however, a visual command might be more effective, helping the dog learn the trick faster".

Added Mr Prichard: "When people want to teach their dog a trick, they often use a verbal command because that is what we humans prefer". Relatively recently these views were subjected to criticism, and many psychologists and biologists believe that human interaction itself plays an important role in the life of dogs.

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