Dogs are favourite pet animals worldwide. They have been with humans since long and the relation is quite bonded. We probably can’t imagine the benefits and affection of this bonding. People used to talk to their animals and dogs are considered to be the best listeners and they respond to the expectation.
But the science behind their reception of words and speech is still have something to reveal and the mystery behind the way dogs process words or speech is worth discussing and important to know.
Frontiers in Neuroscience published one of the first studies using brain imaging on dogs. The results suggest that dogs have at least a rudimentary neural representation of meaning for words they have been taught, differentiating words they have heard before from those they have not.
“Many dog owners think that their dogs know what some words mean, but there really isn’t much scientific evidence to support that,” says Ashley Prichard, a PhD candidate in Emory’s Department of Psychology and first author of the study. “We wanted to get data from the dogs themselves — not just owner reports.”
“We know that dogs have the capacity to process at least some aspects of human language since they can learn to follow verbal commands,” adds Emory neuroscientist Gregory Berns, senior author of the study. “Previous research, however, suggests dogs may rely on many other cues to follow a verbal command, such as gaze, gestures and even emotional expressions from their owners.”
The Emory researchers focused on questions surrounding the brain mechanisms dogs use to differentiate between words, or even what constitutes a word to a dog.
HOW DOG’s INTELLIGENCE WORKS ?
Dog intelligence is the ability of the dog to perceive information and retain it as knowledge for applying to solve problems. Dogs have been shown to learn by inference. A study with Rico showed that he knew the labels of over 200 different items. He inferred the names of novel items by exclusion learning and correctly retrieved those novel items immediately and also 4 weeks after the initial exposure. Dogs have advanced memory skills. A study documented the learning and memory capabilities of a border collie, “Chaser”, who had learned the names and could associate by verbal command over 1,000 words. Dogs are able to read and react appropriately to human body language such as gesturing and pointing, and to understand human voice commands, although a 2018 study on canine cognitive abilities found that dogs’ capabilities are not more exceptional than those of other animals, such as horses, chimpanzees or cats.
Dogs demonstrate a theory of mind by engaging in deception. An experimental study showed compelling evidence that Australian dingos can outperform domestic dogs in non-social problem-solving, indicating that domestic dogs may have lost much of their original problem-solving abilities once they joined humans. Another study indicated that after undergoing training to solve a simple manipulation task, dogs that are faced with an insoluble version of the same problem look at the human, while socialized wolves do not. Modern domestic dogs use humans to solve their problems for them.
Berns is founder of the Dog Project, which is researching evolutionary questions surrounding man’s best, and oldest friend. The project was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation. Studies by the Dog Project have furthered understanding of dogs’ neural response to expected reward, identified specialized areas in the dog brain for processing faces, demonstrated olfactory responses to human and dog odors, and linked prefrontal function to inhibitory control.
For the current study, 12 dogs of varying breeds were trained for months by their owners to retrieve two different objects, based on the objects’ names. Each dog’s pair of objects consisted of one with a soft texture, such as a stuffed animal, and another of a different texture, such as rubber, to facilitate discrimination. Training consisted of instructing the dogs to fetch one of the objects and then rewarding them with food or praise. Training was considered complete when a dog showed that it could discriminate between the two objects by consistently fetching the one requested by the owner when presented with both of the objects.
During one experiment, the trained dog lay in the fMRI scanner while the dog’s owner stood directly in front of the dog at the opening of the machine and said the names of the dog’s toys at set intervals, then showed the dog the corresponding toys.
Half of the dogs in the experiment showed the increased activation for the novel words in their parietotemporal cortex, an area of the brain that the researchers believe may be analogous to the angular gyrus in humans, where lexical differences are processed.
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.
These differences may be related to a limitation of the study — the varying range in breeds and sizes of the dogs, as well as possible variations in their cognitive abilities. A major challenge in mapping the cognitive processes of the canine brain, the researchers acknowledge, is the variety of shapes and sizes of dogs’ brains across breeds.
“Dogs may have varying capacity and motivation for learning and understanding human words,” Berns says, “but they appear to have a neural representation for the meaning of words they have been taught, beyond just a low-level Pavlovian response.”
This conclusion does not mean that spoken words are the most effective way for an owner to communicate with a dog. In fact, other research also led by Prichard and Berns and recently published in Scientific Reports, showed that the neural reward system of dogs is more attuned to visual and to scent cues than to verbal ones.
“When people want to teach their dog a trick, they often use a verbal command because that’s what we humans prefer,” Prichard says. “From the dog’s perspective, however, a visual command might be more effective, helping the dog learn the trick faster.”
These findings also have important conclusions about humans. “Our research sheds new light on the emergence of words during language evolution. What makes words uniquely human is not a special neural capacity, but our invention of using them.”
SOURCE – sciencedaily