Tag: AAAS

America’s lost dogs

A fascinating story.

A wild dog.

I am a member of AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and pulled a story from their Science journal and to my amazement found that I did this nearly a year ago.

The article, by Linda Goodman and Elinor K. Karlsson, is unavailable for complete republishing owing to copyright.

But on the AAAS website there is a summary, as follows:

Summary

Few traces remain of the domesticated dogs that populated the Americas before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. On page 81 of this issue, Ní Leathlobhair et al. (1) shed light on the origins of the elusive precontact dog population through genetic analysis of ancient and modern dogs. Building on earlier work, they show that American dogs alive today have almost no ancestry from precontact dogs, a monophyletic lineage descended from Arctic dogs that accompanied human migrations from Asia. Instead, the authors found that their closest remaining relative is a global transmissible cancer carrying the DNA of a long-deceased dog. It remains unclear why precontact dogs survived and thrived for thousands of years in the Americas only to swiftly and almost completely disappear with the arrival of Europeans.

From the article I would add:

It is unclear why there is so little evidence today of this thriving precontact dog population. Early European colonists may have discouraged the sale and breeding of native dogs, or even actively persecuted them (10). Yet, cultural preferences alone seem insufficient to explain their rapid decline. Most dogs worldwide are free-breeding scavengers, with minimal human control and high reproductive rates (11); native American dogs were likely similar.

There is a chart in the same article that shows the first human sites in the Americas were about 15,000 years ago with the oldest dog remains, also in America, being about 10,000 years ago.

Fascinating stuff!

Listening furry ears!

Returning to the fascinating topic of how dogs understand us humans.

At the beginning of the month I published a post called Be Careful What You Say. It featured an item on BBC Radio Four regarding the science report from a team in Hungary seeking better to understand how dogs process human vocal sounds, as in speech. (The science report was rapidly featured in many other media outlets.)

Anyway, I am delighted to say that the Rights & Permissions Department of the AAAS pointed out that:

Virginia’s article is freely available on our open news website (http://www.sciencemag.org/news)  so rather than post, please link to it (http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/video-your-dog-understands-more-you-think). Your site visitors will encounter no barriers to viewing the article on our website.  We welcome hyperlinks to Science articles provided a plain text link is used and providing our content is not framed. We also ask that the text surrounding the hyperlink not imply any endorsement of your website, products or services by AAAS/Science.

The article, written by Virginia Morell, primarily features a video (see below) but I will just republish Virginia’s opening paragraphs.

Video: Your dog understands more than you think

 

It’s the eternal question for pet owners: Does your dog understand what you’re saying? Even if Fido doesn’t “get” your words, surely he gets your tone when you let loose about another accident on the carpet. But a new imaging study shows that dogs’ brains respond to actual words, not just the tone in which they’re said. The study will likely shake up research into the origins of language, scientists say, as well as gratify dog lovers.

“It’s an important study that shows that basic aspects of speech perception can be shared with quite distant relatives,” says Tecumseh Fitch, a cognitive biologist at the University of Vienna, who was not involved in the work.

It’s not a long article but for any dog lover it is a most interesting read.

So here’s that video.

Virginia concludes her article, thus:

The new results add to scientists’ knowledge of how canine brains process human speech. Dogs have brain areas dedicated to interpreting voices, distinguishing sounds (in the left hemisphere), and analyzing the sounds that convey emotions (in the right hemisphere).

The finding “doesn’t mean that dogs understand everything we say,” says Julie Hecht, who studies canine behavior and cognition at City University of New York in New York City and who was not involved in the study. “But our words and intonations are not meaningless to dogs.” Fitch hopes that similar studies will be done on other domestic animals and on human-raised wolves to see how much of this ability is hardwired in dogs and how much is due to growing up among talking humans.

What a wonderful relationship dogs and humans have with each other!

Be careful what you say!

Science is showing that dogs understand us very well!

First off, if you have a few minutes go across to this link on the BBC Radio 4 website. The programme is called: How extensive is your dog’s vocabulary? The segment is just a little over 4 minutes long and is described:

Many dog owners know that their pets can understand key words like biscuit, walkies or maybe even sausages, but can some clever pooches actually spell or tell the time? Winifred Robinson finds out more.

First broadcast on You & Yours, 31 August 2016.

Secondly, you will be nodding in agreement with Ryan O’Hara of K9 Magazine who was featured in the segment.

Thirdly, now enjoy this recent article that was published over on Mother Nature Network.

ooOOoo

Your dog totally gets what you’re saying

Dogs understand words and tone — much like humans do

Mary Jo DiLonardo August 30, 2016

Dogs don't just hear the tone of your voice. They also hear what you say. (Photo: Golden Pixels LLC/Shutterstock)
Dogs don’t just hear the tone of your voice. They also hear what you say. (Photo: Golden Pixels LLC/Shutterstock)

Your dog gets excited and wags his tail when you say “good boy!” and “treat!” and maybe even “Want to go for a walk?!”

But is it the words he understands or the lilt and obvious happiness he picks up in your voice?

Researchers in Hungary say that dogs understand both the meaning of the words we say, as well as the tone we use when we speak them. So even if you say, “I’m going to work!” in your most upbeat, cheery voice, there’s a good chance your dog is going to see right through you and know this isn’t good news.

“During speech processing, there is a well-known distribution of labor in the human brain,” said lead researcher Attila Andics from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest  in a statement. “It is mainly the left hemisphere’s job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere’s job to process intonation.”

The study, published in the journal Science, found that praise activates the reward center in the brain only when both the words and the intonation are in sync.

Dogs in Hungary sit around the MRI scanner used to measure their brain activity. (Photo: Enikő Kubinyi)
Dogs in Hungary sit around the MRI scanner used to measure their brain activity. (Photo: Enikő Kubinyi)

Researchers trained 13 dogs — mostly border collies and golden retrievers — to lie quietly in a harness in a functional MRI machine while the machine recorded the dogs’ brain activity. A trainer who was familiar to the dogs spoke various words to them with either praising or neutral intonations. Sometimes she said praising words that were often heard by the dogs from their owners, such as “well done!” and “clever!” and other times she used neutral words that the dogs likely didn’t understand, which the researchers believed meant nothing to the pets.

The dogs processed the familiar words using the left hemisphere of their brains, no matter how they were spoken. And tone was analyzed in the right hemisphere. But positive words spoken in a praising tone prompted the most activity in the reward center of the brain.

So “good boy!” said in a positive tone got the best response, while “good boy” in a neutral tone got the same response as a word like “however” said in either a positive or neutral way.

“It shows that for dogs, a praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both the words and the intonation are praising,” Andics said. “So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant. Again, this is very similar to what human brains do.”

What this means for us is that humans aren’t so unusual when it comes to how our brains and language work together.

“Our research sheds new light on the emergence of words during language evolution,” said Andics. “What makes words uniquely human is not a special neural capacity, but our invention of using them.”

Here’s a video of the researchers explaining how the whole thing works:

ooOOoo

Yes, we dog owners know they understand much of what we say. Yes, we also have found out that some key words have to be spelt out (w-a-l-k is one for us!) as Ryan O’Hara mentions.

Nevertheless, this is fascinating research undertaken by the team in Hungary! Well done the team: people and dogs!

P.S. Spare a thought for all those Londoners and their dogs who, 350 years ago, this evening UK time experienced the Great Fire of London.

14483075050_a09581cf11_b
This painting shows the enormous scale of The Great Fire. Unknown artist, c.1700.