Ever felt like your dog can really understand you? Yeah, when they look at you with those cute soulful eyes it seems like they actually get you when you say you love them or scold them for eating something off the table. Well, guess what, it’s true! Hungarian scientists published a study in Science in 2016 that proved you can’t trick your dog with words. For their experiment, they put 13 dogs inside an MRI machine that recorded their brain activity. While the dogs were inside the machine, a trainer they were used to pronounced different words that the dog owners usually used like “good boy,” “super” and “well done”, and neutral words like “however” and “nevertheless”.
The trainer said those words with positive and neutral intonations. The brain activity images showed that the dogs processed the familiar words using the left side of the brain, regardless of intonation. While tones, like emotions behind the words, were picked up by the regions of the right side of the brain. And this is exactly how human brains react to speech, too! On top of that, even when praising words were said with neutral intonation it still prompted strong activity in the dogs’ brain. This means that pooches associated the meaning of those words with a positive experience. That’s why neutral words said with happy intonation didn’t get the same response. What does it all mean for dog owners? Well, it means that even if you announce in a bright tone and with a smile on your face that your pup is going to the vet, your doggie pal won’t believe that they’re going to Disneyland. And you’ll still have to run all over the house trying to catch Fido and get him in the car! Yeah, your four-legged friend can do much more than just chase its tail! Just ask some scientists from the US.
They decided to explore even further the way dogs perceive human language by carrying out an experiment which was published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience last year. They picked up 12 dogs and asked their owners to do some specific training lasting about 2 to 6 months. That training was based on teaching the dogs how to distinguish two different toys by their respective names. After the training period was over, the dogs demonstrated they could pick between the two objects by choosing and fetching the right one when prompted by the owner.
Really smart doggies! This proved that dogs possessed a basic understanding of words they’ve been taught to associate with objects. But scientists wanted to see how the dogs would react to new words and objects. So they put the dogs inside the MRI machine while their owners were standing in front of the scan. The dogs heard both the words they had been trained to recognize, and new made-up words. For example, the owner would say the word “piggy” several times and then showed the corresponding toy. Then, the owner would use made-up words like “bobbu” and “bodmick” and presented new, random objects, such as a hat or a doll. After comparing the dogs’ responses to such tests, the researchers concluded that there’s a special region in a dog’s brain that performs the function of processing vocabulary differences. Which means that even though they can’t fully grasp the precise meaning of words, our speech isn’t just gibberish to them. I guess now you can’t get away with calling your puppy pal a “stinky mess”; he just may get what you said! And not only does the ability to understand human language make dogs close to humans, just like us, they can do math! Ok, honestly I’m awful at math, and while bringing Fifi to math class won’t help me pass my next exam, dogs do have something like a number sense. A 2002 study published in Animal Cognition proves that pooches can count in small numbers. In the study, researchers showed a dog a single treat in a bowl.
Then they either pretended to drop in a second treat or they did add a treat. After that, the dog was shown the bowl again and they would stare at it longer if things didn’t add up — if they’d expected to get two treats, and yet there was just one in front of them. The same thing happened when the researchers added to the bowl an extra treat. The dogs were confused again because they saw three treats instead of two. I told you, it’s hard to trick them! I bet you’ve heard the phrase “puppy love”. Well let me tell you they don’t call it that for nothing because dogs can fall in love the same way people do. According to a professor of animal behavior, Dr. Marc Bekoff, dogs are perfectly capable of establishing long-term commitments to each other. Dogs in love don’t like being apart from their S.O., and feel overjoyed when they’re reunited. Dr. Bekoff also says that most canines prefer a “one mate” relationship to raise their children together. What’s more, our furry friends also experience an increase in oxytocin levels when they bond with their mates. Oxytocin, also known as “the cuddle” hormone, is the same hormone that our bodies release when we build relationships with others. But love can also mean heartbreak. And as Dr. Bekoff notes, dogs can be rejected just like humans. When it happens, they suffer a “breakup”, feeling sad and lonely. So next time you see your pooch feeling blue, maybe she got her heart broken and needs a bowl of ice cream to drown her sorrows. The ability to feel deep emotions also makes your dog a real pro at reading them, too.
Quite often it seems like they pick up on your mood and know when you need comfort. And a 2016 study carried out by a team of researchers from University of Lincoln and University of Sao Paulo proves this point. The researchers recruited 17 domestic dogs and presented them with photos and audio clips, with examples of both humans and dogs conveying different combinations of positive and negative emotional expressions. The dogs watched the images and listened to audio samples at the same time, without any prior training. The team noticed that the dogs spent much longer looking at the facial expressions when they matched the emotional state expressed in the audio clip, both for people and canines. This study reveals that dogs can combine different sources of sensory information to create a consistent picture of emotions that they witness.
That’s why they’re so sensitive and know when you could use a snuggle or two. As we all know dogs make great companions. Even while you’re watching TV or a new video on Bright Side, they’ll more than likely pay some attention to the screen too. However, most of the time they just glance at the TV rather than focus on it like we do. So don’t expect your little furball to follow the storyline of your favorite movie. But research conducted at University of Central Lancashire reveals that domestic dogs do prefer certain images and videos. And no surprises here – they like to watch other canines. There’s even a special TV channel created just for our four-legged puppy pals! Since dogs see color with only two spectrums of light, blue and yellow, this channel tries to avoid green or red. They even shoot their programs at the same low angle that our furry friends see the world. They show dogs chasing each other, riding in the car with their owners, napping, and being visited by the mailman. The channel’s creators claim that their shows entertain dogs when they are left alone and help them with separation anxiety. Well, I don’t know about you but I always leave the TV on when I go out so that my pooch doesn’t feel lonely. Have you ever noticed any other unusual abilities or human-like qualities of dogs?