Tag: Animal Cognition

Dogs and Noise.

This is very interesting!

Belinda, who lives along Hugo Rd., as we do, sent me late last week a very interesting article on how well dogs can tune out noise.

See you yourself.

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How well do dogs hear their name in the midst of chaos?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

August 1st, 2019

Humans have the ability of selective hearing, enabling us to tune in to one person speaking, for instance, even in the middle of a noisy room. This phenomenon, dubbed the cocktail party effect, is not unique to humans, however.

Research published in the journal Animal Cognition revealed that not only can dogs recognize their names in noisy conditions, they may do so better than human infants in a similar situation.1 It’s a finding that could be particularly useful for handlers of working or service dogs, who may find themselves needing to attract their dog’s attention in a chaotic environment.

It’s been suggested that hand signals may be best for this, but a vocal command may be preferable, especially since dog’s may miss hand signals as they pay attention to what’s going on in their environment.2

Dogs pick up their names even in noisy environments

For the study, researchers from the University of Maryland used a variety of dog breeds, including pets, service dogs and search-and-rescue dogs, and their owners. The dogs were placed in a booth with their owner, where background noise was played at increasingly loud levels.

Amidst the background noise, a loudspeaker played recordings of a woman speaking the dog’s name or another dog’s similar-sounding name. The dogs listened more intently to the speaker playing their own name and were able to recognize it at varying levels of background noise, up until the noise became louder than the recording of their names.3

“This surpasses the performance of 1-year-old infants,” the researchers noted. Comparatively, adult humans can pick their names out even when background noise is louder than their name. Perhaps not surprisingly, in the study the working dogs performed better at the name recognition than pet dogs.

“I suspect one of the reasons working dogs do better is because people use their names more consistently,” study co-author Rochelle Newman, Ph.D., told National Geographic. “We often end up using nicknames so much.”4 In addition, the researchers concluded:5

“Overall, we find better performance at name recognition in dogs that were trained to do tasks for humans, like service dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and explosives detection dogs. These dogs were of several different breeds, and their tasks were widely different from one another.

This suggests that their superior performance may be due to generally more training and better attention. In summary, these results demonstrate that dogs can recognize their name even in relatively difficult levels of multitalker babble, and that dogs who work with humans are especially adept at name recognition in comparison with companion dogs.”

Dogs also cue in on other dog and human emotions

Dogs are very in tune with their environments, including the actions and emotions of those around them — both dogs and people. For instance, dogs have been found to display rapid mimicry of the other dogs’ body movements, particularly a play bow and facial expression (a relaxed, open mouth).6

When dogs mimicked each other, their play sessions lasted longer, which suggests it increased the dogs’ motivation to play and possibly strengthened the dogs’ relationship. Given that dogs mimic the emotional states of other dogs, dogs may also be able to mimic their owners’ facial expressions, especially if they’re closely bonded.

“Emotional contagion is a basic form of empathy that makes individuals able to experience others’ emotions. In human and non-human primates, emotional contagion can be linked to facial mimicry, an automatic and fast response (less than 1 second]) in which individuals involuntary mimic others’ expressions,” researchers wrote in Royal Society Open Science. “… All these findings concur in supporting the idea that a possible linkage between rapid mimicry and emotional contagion (a building-block of empathy) exists in dogs.”

The fact that dogs may mimic their owner’s facial expressions and are capable of selective hearing to pick their name out of a host of background noise adds even more understanding of why dogs and humans share such strong bonds.

Dogs associate words with objects

In dog and human communication, it remains a bit of a mystery whether dogs are responding to humans’ words, tone of voice, gestures or other cues — or all of the above.

The featured study suggests dogs do, indeed, respond to their names when spoken verbally, and past research has also shown dogs associate certain words with objects and seem able to form mental pictures that correspond to words they’ve been taught.7 Dogs also tune in to the tone of your voice,8 and may have a heightened response to praise delivered in an upbeat tone. There’s still some debate, though, over whether dogs really understand what you’re saying.

“Some of the old guard say the name is just a bit of noise that is made by the handler, and the dog is familiar with the handler’s voice, so anything the handler says is going to get their attention,” Stanley Coren, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia, told National Geographic.9

Yet in the featured study, the dogs responded even though a stranger’s voice said their names, adding more evidence that dogs may understand more than we give them credit for. And, for anyone wondering, there’s evidence that cats also know their names, much like dogs and even when spoken by someone other than their owner.

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That dogs, perhaps not all dogs, understand far more than we give them credit is no real surprise. For a creature that bonds so close to humans and has done for a long time we still don’t really know how they function. Well certainly in the head department!

But that doesn’t reduce by one iota our love for them. They are a very special animal.

The healing power of dogs.

How dogs offer us humans health and happiness.

Many months ago, I was contacted by a Peter Bloch offering to write a guest post on the subject of the healing power of dogs.  Peter had read a post that I had published in July last year which prompted the email dialogue between us.

Not going to say much more at this stage except that today I am republishing that post from last July.  On Monday, I will introduce Peter and his guest post.  Then on Tuesday, I will speak of my own experiences both as entrepreneurial mentor and as a ‘customer’ of a wonderful psychotherapist back in Devon during 2007.  Hope that works for you.

So here’s that Learning from Dogs post.

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The bond between dogs and humans

Such a beautiful and mutually-important relationship.

I didn’t plan to write more about this subject thinking that my last two posts, Woof at the Door and Prof. Pat Shipman, more than covered the theme; indeed much more.

But then a flurry of other articles conspired to pass my desk.

In no particular order there was an article on the Big Think website, Do Dogs Speak Human?  As the article opened,

What’s the Big Idea?

Perhaps the better question is, do humans speak dog? Either way, the debate over whether language is unique to humans, or a faculty also possessed by wild and domestic animals from dogs to apes to dolphins, is an interesting one. The answer depends on exactly how we define “language,” and who’s doing the talking, says David Bellos, the Booker prize-winning translator.

The article includes this three-minute video,

and concludes,

Broadly, a language is a mode of expression. “The argument that only human language is language and that animal communication systems, however sophisticated they are — and some of them are quite sophisticated — are not languages because they consist of discrete signals is a circular argument,” he argues. “It’s a self-fulfilling thing. And I think we should be a little bit more interested in the complexity and the variability of animal communication systems and less rigid about this distinction between what is a language and what is not a language.”

For now, we’re happy with this:

The June 30th edition of The Economist had an article entitled, Can dogs really show empathy towards humans? (You may have to register (free) to view this.)  That report ends, as follows,

As they report in Animal Cognition, “person-oriented behaviour” did sometimes take place when either the stranger or the owner hummed, but it was more than twice as likely to occur if someone was crying. This indicated that dogs were differentiating between odd behaviour and crying. And of the 15 dogs in the experiment that showed person-oriented responses when the stranger cried, all of them directed their attention towards the stranger rather than their owner.

These discoveries suggest that dogs do have the ability to express empathetic concern. But although the results are clear enough, Dr Custance argues that more work needs to be done to be sure that such behaviour is true empathy. It is possible, she points out, that the dogs were drawing on previous experiences in which they were rewarded for approaching distressed human companions. Dog-owners, however, are unlikely to need any more convincing.

It was then an easy follow-up to that Animal Cognition article which is available online here; here’s the abstract,

Empathy covers a range of phenomena from cognitive empathy involving metarepresentation to emotional contagion stemming from automatically triggered reflexes.

An experimental protocol first used with human infants was adapted to investigate empathy in domestic dogs. Dogs oriented toward their owner or a stranger more often when the person was pretending to cry than when they were talking or humming. Observers, unaware of experimental hypotheses and the condition under which dogs were responding, more often categorized dogs’ approaches as submissive as opposed to alert, playful or calm during the crying condition. When the stranger pretended to cry, rather than approaching their usual source of comfort, their owner, dogs sniffed, nuzzled and licked the stranger instead.

The dogs’ pattern of response was behaviorally consistent with an expression of empathic concern, but is most parsimoniously interpreted as emotional contagion coupled with a previous learning history in which they have been rewarded for approaching distressed human companions.

It doesn’t get closer than this.

The bond between dogs and humans

Such a beautiful and mutually-important relationship.

I didn’t plan to write more about this subject thinking that my last two posts, Woof at the Door and Prof. Pat Shipman, more than covered the theme; indeed much more.

But then a flurry of other articles conspired to pass my desk.

In no particular order there was an article on the Big Think website, Do Dogs Speak Human?  As the article opened,

What’s the Big Idea?

Perhaps the better question is, do humans speak dog? Either way, the debate over whether language is unique to humans, or a faculty also possessed by wild and domestic animals from dogs to apes to dolphins, is an interesting one. The answer depends on exactly how we define “language,” and who’s doing the talking, says David Bellos, the Booker prize-winning translator.

The article includes this three-minute video,

and concludes,

Broadly, a language is a mode of expression. “The argument that only human language is language and that animal communication systems, however sophisticated they are — and some of them are quite sophisticated — are not languages because they consist of discrete signals is a circular argument,” he argues. “It’s a self-fulfilling thing. And I think we should be a little bit more interested in the complexity and the variability of animal communication systems and less rigid about this distinction between what is a language and what is not a language.”

For now, we’re happy with this:

The June 30th edition of The Economist had an article entitled, Can dogs really show empathy towards humans? (You may have to register (free) to view this.)  That report ends, as follows,

As they report in Animal Cognition, “person-oriented behaviour” did sometimes take place when either the stranger or the owner hummed, but it was more than twice as likely to occur if someone was crying. This indicated that dogs were differentiating between odd behaviour and crying. And of the 15 dogs in the experiment that showed person-oriented responses when the stranger cried, all of them directed their attention towards the stranger rather than their owner.

These discoveries suggest that dogs do have the ability to express empathetic concern. But although the results are clear enough, Dr Custance argues that more work needs to be done to be sure that such behaviour is true empathy. It is possible, she points out, that the dogs were drawing on previous experiences in which they were rewarded for approaching distressed human companions. Dog-owners, however, are unlikely to need any more convincing.

It was then an easy follow-up to that Animal Cognition article which is available online here; here’s the abstract,

Empathy covers a range of phenomena from cognitive empathy involving metarepresentation to emotional contagion stemming from automatically triggered reflexes.

An experimental protocol first used with human infants was adapted to investigate empathy in domestic dogs. Dogs oriented toward their owner or a stranger more often when the person was pretending to cry than when they were talking or humming. Observers, unaware of experimental hypotheses and the condition under which dogs were responding, more often categorized dogs’ approaches as submissive as opposed to alert, playful or calm during the crying condition. When the stranger pretended to cry, rather than approaching their usual source of comfort, their owner, dogs sniffed, nuzzled and licked the stranger instead.

The dogs’ pattern of response was behaviorally consistent with an expression of empathic concern, but is most parsimoniously interpreted as emotional contagion coupled with a previous learning history in which they have been rewarded for approaching distressed human companions.

It doesn’t get closer than this.