“Good dog!” : our most loyal animals understand us, according to a study

"Good dog!"  : our most loyal animals understand us, according to a study

Can our dogs understand the words we use? A new brain wave study, published in Current Biology, suggests that hearing the names of their favorite toys activates their memory for the objects they are associated with.

This shows us that it is not a simply human faculty“, rejoices the co-author of the survey Lilla Magyari, researcher at Loránd-Eötvös University in Hungary.

The question of whether dogs understand words or a situation, such as the tone used or a particular context, has long been unresolved and science has not been able to provide clear answers.

In the past, several laboratory tests have shown that dogs, with a few exceptions, are not capable of bringing back objects only after hearing their names.

For many experts, it is not really what we say to them but how and when we do it that stimulates them.

For example, asking to go “get the stick” and seeing your dog come back with the piece of wood does not prove that your dog knows the meaning of the word “stick”.

“14 dogs” out of 18

For this new study, Lilla Magyari and her colleagues used a non-invasive brain imaging technique on 18 dogs.

Using electrodes placed on their skulls, they recorded their brain activity. The teachers then gave the words corresponding to toys they knew and then showed them either the corresponding object or a different object.

After analysis, the team of researchers discovered different patterns in the brain when the teacher showed the corresponding object or not.

This type of experiment, used for decades on humans, is considered proof of understanding of meaning and also has the advantage of not requiring a dog to bring back the object to prove its knowledge.

We found this result in 14 dogs“, indicates to AFP the co-author of the study Marianna Boros. Which shows that this result is not only the result of “a few exceptional dogs”.

Even the four who “failed” may simply have been tested on the wrong words, she adds.

The ability of dogs to bring back a specific toy after hearing its name was previously considered a gift, Holly Root-Gutteridge, a dog behavior specialist at the University of Lincoln in England, told AFP.

“Brain response”

For example, famous border collies Chaser and Rico could find toys in a large pile just by hearing their names.

For the researcher, the new study “shows that many dogs learn the names of objects in terms of brain response even if they don’t show it in their behaviors“.

Clive Wynne, a dog behaviorist at Arizona State University, said he was “divided” on these results.

The article does not hold water when it tries to demonstrate what it calls +semantic understanding+“, he believes, while praising an “ingenious” experimental device which makes it possible to test the entire “functional vocabulary” of dogs.

For example, Clive Wynne says he has to spell out the word “walk,” rather than saying it, lest his dog imagine he’s going outside. He has no need, he says, to take such precautions with humans whose understanding of the word goes beyond simple association.

Would Pavlov be surprised by these results?“, asks the researcher, in reference to the famous Russian scientist who demonstrated that dogs could be conditioned to salivate every time they heard the sound of a bell indicating meal time. “I don’t think he would“.