Tag: University of Vienna

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!

Nowhere to hide now!

Have a dog or two in the house? Hide your feelings then!

I have previously remarked on how quickly our dogs pick up on key words and phrases spoken by either Jean or me.  In my case, long before I met Jean when I was living in Devon with Pharaoh, I quickly learnt that voicing the word ‘walk’ caused an eruption of interest from his nibs. Then I foiled his intelligence by spelling the word out: w-a-l-k.  That lasted all of a fortnight (or two weeks in American speak) before Pharaoh knitted the letters into that walk word.

Here in Oregon our living-room/bedroom group of dogs (Pharaoh, Hazel, Cleo, Sweeney and Oliver) pick up on so many human comments, sayings, and behaviours that at times it feels as though Jean and I need to go somewhere private in order to discuss anything that affects our lovely dogs.

All of which is a preamble to a fascinating article recently seen on the Smithsonian Magazine website.

Our furry friends might be able to infer our mood based on our facial expressions - just like human buddies do. (Photo: JLPH/cultura/Corbis

Our furry friends might be able to infer our mood based on our facial expressions – just like human buddies do. (Photo: JLPH/cultura/Corbis)

Dogs Can Tell Whether You’re Making a Happy or Mad Face

For the first time, science shows that a non-human animal can recognize the emotional state of another species

By Rachel Nuwer
February 12, 2015

Facial expressions are a key asset in our arsenal of communication methods. Without saying a word, we can alert those around us to our emotional state—ranging from elation to sorrow—simply by flexing a few muscles. Such expressions have evolved to help us connect with one another, avoid danger and work together.

Fellow humans, however, are not the only ones potentially tuning in to the information our expressions convey. According to the results of a study published today in Current Biology, dogs have hacked this silent method of communication, at least enough to distinguish between angry and happy facial expressions.

Dogs and humans share a tight evolutionary bond, which is why veterinarian researchers from the University of Vienna decided to focus on these two species for their study. Dogs are already known to be whizzes at reading us. For instance, they can discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar faces even if just part of the face is shown in a photograph. Whether they actually recognize emotions, however, had not been conclusively investigated before.

It would be wrong to republish the full article without permission but I do want to share another photograph from the article and the closing paragraphs.

A canine research subject differentiates between angry and happy eyes. Photo: Anjuli Barber, Messerli Research Institute

Before the authors delve into the greater animal kingdom, though, they plan to further explore their canine findings. Experiments with puppies could lend insight into whether facial expression recognition is something dogs learn over their lives or if it’s something more innate. And trials with wolves could indicate whether human breeders bestowed emotion recognition in their canine companions via artificial selection, or whether that trait was something dogs’ ancient relatives developed on their own simply by living in the vicinity of humans.

While the initial controlled laboratory findings don’t prove that your dog is watching your every facial move for clues about how you are feeling, they do open up the possibility that dogs are even more empathetic best friends than we thought.

Many of you who have dogs in your lives will intuitively know this to be true. But having the scientific underpinning is wonderful confirmation of that truth.

I’m sure I am not alone in having a dog come up to me and lick the tears off my face.

What incredible loving and trusting relationships we have with our dogs.

To underline my last sentence, on a whim I just took the following photograph of Hazel who very rarely isn’t by my side.

Picture taken at 10:35 yesterday morning in my 'home office' when I had finished writing today's post.
Picture taken at 10:35 yesterday morning in my ‘home office’ when I had just finished writing today’s post.

Dogs ‘copy’ their owners

More evidence that shows there’s more to dogs than we realise.

Earlier on this year, a series of Posts was published on Learning from Dogs based on a science programme on the BBC (BBC Horizon) that revealed the degree of sophistication that is inherent in these clever animals.

This is the link to that article.  Unfortunately the YouTube videos have now been removed but there are some clips available on the BBC website here.  As the programme was introduced:

We have an extraordinary relationship with dogs – closer than with any other animal on the planet. But what makes the bond between us so special?

Research into dogs is gaining momentum, and scientists are investigating them like never before. From the latest fossil evidence, to the sequencing of the canine genome, to cognitive experiments, dogs are fast turning into the new chimps as a window into understanding ourselves.

Anyway, all this is a lead in to an item on the news today regarding a study into dogs by the University of Vienna.

Dogs “automatically imitate” the body movements of their owners, according to a study.

This automatic imitation is a crucial part of social learning in humans.

But Austrian researchers report that the phenomenon – where the sight of another’s body movement causes the observer to move in the same way – is evident in many other animals.

They say that it reveals clues about how this type of learning evolved.

The study, which was led by Dr Friederike Range from the University of Vienna in Austria, also suggests that the way in which people interact with and play with their dogs as they are growing up shapes their ability to imitate.

The phenomenon under investigation is known as "selective imitation" and implies that dogs -- like human infants -- do not simply copy an action they observe, but adjust the extent to which they imitate to the circumstances of the action. (Credit: iStockphoto/David Brimm)

There’s more to the news release on Science Daily from which is quoted:

New research by Friederike Range and Ludwig Huber, of the University of Vienna, and Zsofia Viranyi, of the Eötvös University in Budapest, reveals striking similarities between humans and dogs in the way they imitate the actions of others. The phenomenon under investigation is known as “selective imitation” and implies that dogs–like human infants–do not simply copy an action they observe, but adjust the extent to which they imitate to the circumstances of the action.

By Paul Handover