Traditional wisdom holds that it’s not so much what you say to your dog as how you say it that counts — that tone, in other words, is everything.
But scientists in Hungary say dogs may understand more words than we think — and that it takes a combination of positive words and a positive tone for their brains to register a pleasurable reaction.
“Both what we say and how we say it matters to dogs,” said Attila Andics, a research fellow at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest.
MRI readings conducted in the study showed the right hemisphere of dogs’ brains react to intonation, while the left hemisphere reacts to the meaning of words — as is the case with humans.
Their paper was published in this week’s issue of the journal Science.
The researchers — using words, positive tones and plenty of treats, we’d imagine — trained dogs to enter a magnetic resonance imaging machine and lie still while the machine recorded their brain activity.
The methods, similar to those being used at Emory University, are allowing scientists to better understand what goes on in the canine brain.
All the words were spoken using both positive tones and neutral tones, according to the New York Times.
Only words of praise spoken in a positive tone provoked significant reactions, making the reward centers in a dog’s brain light up.
The researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest recruited 13 family dogs for the study, and trained them to sit totally still for seven minutes in an fMRI scanner. The dogs were not restrained, and “could leave the scanner at any time,” the authors said.
Using the brain activity images, the researchers saw that the dogs processed the familiar words regardless of intonation, and they did so using the left hemisphere, just like humans. Tone, on the other hand, was analyzed in the auditory regions of the right hemisphere.
Using neutral words in a positive tone, or positive words in a neutral tone, produced little reaction — or at least not one that shows up in MRI machines.
“It shows that for dogs a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match,” 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.”
(Photos by Enik Kubinya, via New York Times)
Posted by John Woestendiek August 31st, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, brain, cognition, communicating, dogs, emery, Eötvös Loránd University, fmri, hungary, intonation, mri, neutral, pets, positive, praise, researchers, rewards, science, scientists, studies, study, talking, tone, understanding, vocabulary
Based on tests with dozens of dogs — some from homes, some from shelters — researchers found that, when it comes to interacting with humans, dogs seems to prefer physical contact to anything you might have to say, praise included.
One possible exception — verbal pronouncements that dinner, or treats, are about to be served.
Two scientists from the University of Florida, who in a previous study determined dogs prefer eating food to being petted, have published the results of another research project, showing dogs prefer physical contact over verbal praise.
Neither conclusion seems that surprising to me, but one has to bear in mind that scientists prefer having their work published to having their bellies rubbed, dinner at a five-star restaurant or even verbal praise: “Good scientist. Yes! Yes! You’re a very good scientist.”
“I spend half my day talking to my dog,” study co-author Dr. Clive Wynne, who is now professor and director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, told The Huffington Post. “She always looks like it’s valuable to her. It’s quite a shock to discover that what we say to dogs doesn’t seem to be rewarding to them after all.”
For one part of the study researchers observed 42 dogs as they interacted one at a time with two people in a room. One person petted the dog, while the other praised the dog verbally. The researchers measured how much time the dog chose to spend interacting with each person.
Next, 72 dogs were, one at a time, placed in a room with just one person and their behavior was observed as the person spent time petting or praising the dog, or not interacting at all.
Dogs showed the most interest in people who were petting them, while they seemed to show no more interest in spoken praise than in having no interaction with the human at all, according to the study, published in the journal Behavioural Processes.
“I was surprised that when only one alternative was available, dogs still did not engage with the human for vocal praise,” said study co-author Dr. Erica Feuerbacher, now assistant professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. She conducted the research while earning her doctorate degree at the University of Florida.
The scientists say dogs never seem to tire of getting petted, and they note that previous studies have shown a dog being stroked, like the human who is stroking him, reaps some health benefits, including a lowering of heart rate and blood pressure.
We won’t go so far as to suggest dogs realize that petting is a more honest form of interaction; that words can be less sincere, or even deceptive; or that words can even be annoying — like when they go on too long, are ridiculously repetitious, or they’re uttered in that high-pitched baby talk tone some of us use when talking to our pets.
But we won’t rule it out, either.
For his part, researcher Wynne says that, even if his own dog doesn’t fully appreciate all he verbally passes on to her, he’ll probably keep talking to her anyway. “I just recognize better that I’m doing it more for my benefit than for hers,” he said.
(Photo: Ace seeking some physical contact in Kanab, Utah / by John Woestendiek)
Posted by John Woestendiek September 10th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, attention, benefits, blood pressure, cognition, contact, dogs, health, heart rate, humans, interaction, pets, petting, physical, praise, psychology, science, shut up and pet me, study, talk, talking, touch, verbal, vocal, words
There are two main reasons I’m against humanizing our pets.
One, it’s messing with nature — dogs (ideal beasts, in my view) should stay dogs.
Two, portraying them as humans, giving them human attributes, or using them as our puppets, implies our species is superior, and worth imitating. Oftentimes, from what I’ve seen of it, it’s not. We’re are way too far from perfect to appoint ourselves role models for the animal kingdom.
I get slightly peeved when I see technology being used to make dogs more human — especially when, because we deem it cute and entertaining, we put our words in their mouths.
So, immensely popular as it is, I’m less than smitten with My Talking Pet, an app that allows us to take a photo of our cat or dog, record an audio message, and get a video of our pet — animated so that mouth, nose and eyebrows move as the pet appears to talk.
From the samples I’ve seen, the words we put in the mouths of dogs are only further proof that we’re not the intellectually superior species we think we are.
“People are obsessed with it,” said Iain Baird, who developed the app with his former school buddy, Peter Worth. “I think it’s really struck a chord with how close people are with their pets.”
The concept, he told Fortune.com, came while he and some friends were in a London pub talking about a YouTube video featuring a “talking dog” that had gone viral. They decided to come up with an app that would make it easy for any pet owner make their dog “talk,” and it hit the iTunes market in early 2013.
It wasn’t until after the app was featured on the “Ellen” show that it really took off.
Last October, Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, stars of the CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls,” praised the app while on the show. In the weeks that followed it became the most downloaded paid app in the Apple iTunes store.
Worth and Baird say their company, WOBA Media, began thinking even bigger after that — including offering a “devil mode,” which adds glowing red eyes to the pet, and “angel mode,” in which the pet appears under a halo.
Taken alone, “My Talking Pet” is just a little harmless fun — as is dressing the dog up for Halloween, treating the dog like a spoiled grandchild, or calling them “fur babies”.
The dangers come when our seeing them as humans sabotages our attempts at training, when we start assigning dogs human emotions they don’t have, and holding them to human expectations.
We should be close to our pets. We should see them as family members — only canine ones. To manipulate them, to turn them into something else (humans, or angels, or devils), to put words into their mouths, all takes away from appreciating them for what they are.
Just something to keep in mind as technology marches on — often making bigger inroads than we originally anticipated.
How long will it be, for example, before cutting edge, 21st Century technology, like that used in “My Talking Pet” is turned around on us, and the app takes on a mind of its own, and our pets are giving us their unsolicited opinions on the best brand of dog food, cereal or car to buy?
That could never happen, could it?
Posted by John Woestendiek September 4th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 2 broke girls, animal, animals, animation, apps, behavior, dog, dogs, ellen, humanize, humanizing, internet, itunes, my talking pet, pets, species, superior, talking, talking dog videos, talking dogs, technology, words
Charles Sasser has Alzheimer’s, and over the past year he has all but stopped talking, according to his daughter.
The Albuquerque man will make some sounds when he’s with his two dogs, but he rarely utters more than a word or phrase.
So when he started talking — in full sentences — to his daughter’s dog, she made a video.
Abeyta, who writes often about her family’s struggles with Alzheimer’s on her blog, posted the video last week on YouTube — showing the moment Sasser, a Korean war veteran, began to speak to her dog, Roscoe.
Within a few days, it was nearing a million views, and generating comments — actual kind, caring, non-stupid and rational comments, many from strangers sharing their own stories.
Abeyta says her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a degenerative disease affecting memory, about four or five years ago. In the past year, he started to lose his ability to speak in sentences.
“I’m touched by the response to the video … They talked about how having a pet or connecting with music really gave them back a loved one with Alzheimer’s,” Abeyta told ABC News.
On her own blog, she wrote, “I had no idea the video would touch so many people or be shared so many times. The comments and emails – for the most part – have been a wonderfully moving procession of individuals sharing their own journey through Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is a cruel disease, and the kind words of others who have faced similar experiences has left me feeling not quite so alone in it all.”
Posted by John Woestendiek April 30th, 2014 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: albuquerque, alzheimers, animals, charles sasser, disability, disease, dog, dogs, elderly, forming, lisa abeyta, memory, pets, sentences, speaking, talking, therapy, video
Earlier this week, I asked — only semi-whimsically — if the day might come when dogs start speaking, actually speaking.
I wondered what dogs might say, and whether, once dogs became verbal, we humans would actually listen, as opposed to just giggling and taking video and posting it on YouTube.
It would probably be far in the future when that happens — and only assuming we humans can keep the planet together that long.
But it’s not too early to start thinking about it, at least semi-whimsically, including the very real possibility that — given dogs tend to reflect us more and more as time goes by — they could end up talking to us as we’ve been talking to them all these years.
And wouldn’t that be awful?
These, as I see it, are the two worst-case scenarios:
One, they will be bossy-assed nags, telling us, far more often than necessary, what to do: “No!” “Stop that!” “Leave it!” Hush!” “Get down!” “Sit!” “Stay!”
Two, they will be sappy, high-pitched baby talkers: “You’re such a cute human. Yes, you are! You’re the cutest little mushy face human in the world, with your mushy-mush-mush little face. It’s the mushiest little face I ever did see. Yes it is! You’re a good little human. Aren’t you? Yes! Yee-ess! Yes you are!”
Those, while annoying extremes, are highly common approaches when it comes to how we humans speak to our dogs.
Some of us are order-dispensing dictators who only talk to our dogs when issuing commands.
Some of us are babblers, spewing a non-stop stream of syrupy praise and meaningless drivel.
A lot of us are both, myself included, especially in the privacy of my home. Sometimes, I have to stop myself from saying things like “Who’s the handsomest dog in the land? Who’s a big boy? Who’s a genius? Ace is. Yes, Acey is.”
Sometimes, I realize several days have gone by when the only words I’ve voiced to Ace are orders, at which point I lapse into baby talk to make up for it.
He is probably convinced I am passive-aggressive, if not bi-polar.
There are, thankfully, some in-betweens when it comes to talking to one’s dog, and one of our favorite dog writers — by which we mean a human who writes about dogs — took a look at some of those variations in an essay posted recently on TheDodo.com, a website that looks at how we can better understand animals and improve our relationships with them.
Alexandra Horowitz is the author of “Inside of a Dog” and runs the the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has spent 15 years studying what dogs might be trying to say to us, but recently she did some cursory research into what we say to them.
“… (O)ver the last months I have been doing some top-secret quasi-science. That is, I’ve been gathering data in my neighborhood in New York City by eavesdropping on the things people say to their dogs. Humans are a species which anthropomorphizes dogs to incredible degrees (as can be attested to by anyone who has seen a pug forced to dress like Winston Churchill). Sure, we know they aren’t really small, furry people (well, most of us seem to know this), but great numbers of people would willingly attest to their dogs being “their children” — or at least claim to think of them as members of their family. But do we really treat them like little people? I figured that some clue to that would come in how we speak to them.”
Horowitz did some eavesdropping on people out with their dogs in public, making notes of the one-sided conversations she overheard at parks and on sidewalks.
“And, oh, there were many utterances: on every walk I’ve taken in the last months, on a commute, to the store, or out with my own pups, I encountered people with dogs. Some pass silently, but many are in apparent constant dialogue with the pup at the end of the leash. What the dog-talk I’ve gathered shows is not how much we talk to dogs, nor the percentage of people who do so talk, but the kinds of things we say to dogs.”
She wrote that, based on what she heard, how we talk to dogs falls into five categories:
1. The “Almost Realistic,” or talking to a dog as if he mostly understands what you are saying (with grown-up words, but not words so big he needs a dictionary), as in “Do you want another treat?” (The question that never needs asking.)
2. “Momentarily Confusing Dog With A 2-Year-Old Kid,” as in “Who wants a treatie-weetie? Who does? Who? Who?” (For some reason, no matter how old dogs get, many of us keep talking to them this way, probably because it makes their tails wag.)
3. “Assuming Extravagant Powers Of Understanding:” This is another one I engage in simply because you never know how much they might be taking in: “C’mon Ace, we’re going to stop at the drug store, visit grandma, and go to the park. The duration of the last stop might be limited, because Doppler radar says a storm might be approaching the area.
4. “Totally Inexplicable:” The example Horowitz cites is “Be a man.” (That’s a phrase that bugs me almost as much as “man up” and, worse yet, “grow a pair.” I think a man is the last thing a dog should want to be, and for man to tell a dog to “grow a pair” is just too full of irony to even comment on. I have no problem, however, with “Grow a pear,” and consider it to be legitimate advice.)
5. “Ongoing (One-way) Conversation:” These are those non-stop talkers who conduct a monologue as they walk through the park with their dogs, as in, “Let’s go down the hill and see if your friend Max is there. It would be nice to see Max, wouldn’t it? Remember the time you and Max went swimming? What fun you had. Speaking of fun, do you want to play some tug of war when we get back home? Oh look, there’s Max!”
As Horowitz notes, all of us dog-talkers, and especially that last group, are really talking to ourselves, providing an ongoing narrative of what we are doing and what’s going on in our heads. We are thinking out loud, and our dogs are the victims/beneficiaries of that.
“We talk to dogs not as if they are people, but as if they are the invisible person inside of our own heads. Our remarks to them are our thoughts, articulated… Many of our thoughts while we walk our dogs are not so profound, but they are a running commentary on our days, which serves to lend meaning to ordinary activities …”
(Sounds kind of like Facebook, doesn’t it?)
As with that earlier post that got me started talking about dog talking, this one reminds me of a song, too. I used it in a video I made for a photo exhibit about Baltimore dogs a few years back. The song is called “Talkin’ to the Dog.”
Posted by John Woestendiek January 24th, 2014 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, animals, babbling, baby talk, behavior, cognition, commands, communication, dog, dog cognition lab, dog talk, dogs, dogs talking, echo, evolution, evolve, future, habits, how we talk to dogs, humans, interaction, listening, mimicry, orders, parks, pets, public, speak, speaking, streets, styles, talking, talking dogs, talking to dogs, talking to the dog, the dodo.com, thedodo, thoughts, traits, verbal, voice, what we say to dogs, words
You know how frustrated you get when you have to tell your dog something over and over again?
Come here. Come HERE. Listen to me. Get over here right now. Don’t make me say it again. COME HERE!
In this video, the shoe is sort of on the other paw.
John Ventresco, of New Hampshire, is trying to persuade his 11-month-old husky, Blaze, to get into her crate.
Not only does Blaze physically (but peacefully) resist, refusing to budge, but she says what sounds like “no” — 30 times by my count, at least 10 of those quite clearly:
Posted on YouTube just two weeks ago, the video is approaching 5 million views, meaning a lot of people are getting a chuckle, and learning how not to train a dog, and debating whether Ventresco — as gentle and good-humored as his urging is — is going to get bitten one of these days, and, if so, will he have deserved it.
Eventually one of them will have the other properly trained, I’m just not sure if it will be Ventresco or Blaze. Right now, it appears to be a draw.
The bigger question it raises, to me, anyway, is whether the day will come when dogs really do talk. I predict it will — that they will someday talk, on their own, without the aid of implants, headsets, devices that monitor their brain waves and apps that translate what they’re thinking into words.
Several projects are underway that do just that — because we humans want to know what’s going on in their heads, and we want to know now, and somebody somewhere thinks it might make some money.
We’ll take advantage of technology to bring that about and get it on the market as soon as possible, rather than wait a few hundred or thousand more years when, I’d venture, dogs will have evolved to the point that they’re talking on their own anyway.
It’s only natural for that to happen, with them living so closely to us, observing us around the clock, and watching too much TV. They will continue to pick up our skills — learning to operate a remote control, warming up some chicken nuggets, uttering words, then entire phrases.
Mark my words. By the year 2525 (and that’s just a wild guess), dogs will be saying “yes” and “no,” and more:
I want to go outside for a while.
But wait, there’s more. Details at 11. Ohmigod, they killed Kenny. Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.
Put me in that damn crate again and, I swear, I’m going to call my attorney.
They may never have as sophisticated a vocabulary as us, may never be as erudite, snotty, self-promoting and adept at making barbed comments as us. But the day will come that they use words.
The question is not whether dogs will someday learn to talk. It’s whether, when they do, we’ll listen.
We already stink at that — in terms of listening to our fellow humans, and in terms of hearing what our dogs are silently saying. We’re so dependent on words we don’t hone our wordless communication skills, even though that mode is often more honest and meaningful.
My fear is that, through continued domicile-sharing with humans, dogs are going to learn to talk, but also — like Blaze, like Ventresco — not to listen.
It all brings to mind some lyrics from a song that has nothing to do with dogs — Don McLean’s “Vincent.” When you think about it, the misunderstood artist and modern day dog have much in common. We wonder what they’re trying to say, fail to see their brilliance, and don’t appreciate them fully until they’re gone.
Instead, often, we taunt, ridicule and shame them.
How much shorter might Van Gogh’s career have been, how many appendages might he have lopped off, were he around in the Internet age, reading nasty comments from people about his paintings?
How much quicker might the civil rights movement have progressed if people had shut up and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., the first time?
Are we getting any better at listening, or quicker to turn a deaf ear?
As the song “Vincent” says:
They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…
Let’s give it a listen.
Posted by John Woestendiek January 20th, 2014 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, apps, artist, behavior, biology, blaze, civility, cognition, comments, communication, crate, devices, dog talk, dog training, dogs, don mclean, evolution, headsets, humans, husky, impatience, implants, internet, kennel, listen, listening, martin luther king, martin luther king jr, misunderstood, mlk, mlk day, no!, noooo, persuasion, pets, refusal, repetition, resistance, siberian husky, skills, starry starry night, stubborness, talking, talking dogs, technology, thoughts, training, translation, van gogh, video, vincent, viral, vocabulary, vocalizing, what part of no don't you understand, words, youtube
Meet GeriJoy. He’s a virtual dog. He’s a talking dog. He’s even described as “a compassionate” dog.
He was developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be an interactive companion for older people with dementia or memory problems, serving to provide what his makers call “continual stimulation.”
But there’s something about GeriJoy, noble as the idea may be, that I find a little bit patronizing, a little bit insulting, and highly phony. His creation also seems an awfully circuitous and robotic route to take to provide a virtual experience with an animated creature when the real thing is so abundantly available.
Clearly, I’m cynical, or at least wary, when it comes to technology — and perhaps more. It was only yesterday, after all, that I cruelly bashed soft and fuzzy stuffed animals.
Despite that, techno-wizards keep trying, intent, it seems, on trying to capture a no-shed, no-drool, no bark, no worries version of dog — be it stuffed, virtual, or mechanical — and then convince you that their inanimate, or animated, object will love you unconditionally forever.
The truth is, close as they might come — and cloning probably comes closest — they never will. Ha ha. Take that.
If GeriJoy, the virtual dog, is making some old person happy, even if it’s a delusional kind of happy, we’re all for it. If it’s being used as a substitute for human attention, we’re not. With all the growth in and demands on senior services and facilities for the elderly, there’s a tendency to look for quick and easy shortcuts, when the keys to doing job right are already obvious — caring staff, ample staff, staff with hearts.
And maybe some dogs — real dogs.
What I’d rather see is not a nursing home where dozens of residents are lined up in wheelchairs, stroking animated images on their hand held devices, but one that’s taking advantage of programs — or even creating some — in which dog ownership among residents is encouraged, and assistance with those dogs is provided; ones where dogs live under communal ownership, or short of that, therapy dogs visit regularly; one that’s investing in building a qualified and caring staff, as opposed to investing in devices that substitute for real human, or dog, contact.
Here’s how the GeriJoy website touts the product: “Have an older loved one who is lonely and suffers from dementia or geriatric depression? GeriJoy can help. We provide talking pets that are intelligent, compassionate, and available 24/7 to talk about anything, including photos and updates from family.”
The virtual dog can be displayed on a computer or other Internet-connected device. The virtual dog, the website claims, “provides all the availability and unconditional love of an adorable pet, combined with the ability to talk with true intelligence and compassion … It’s as if it lives inside a picture frame, so you get the benefits of pet therapy without any smells, allergies, cleaning up, bites, or food and veterinary bills.”
The virtual dog can provide around the clock stimulation, his developers say, and, in the video snippet above, GeriJoy certainly sounds stimulating, or stimulated, almost orgasmically so. “Oh, you’re so good,” GeriJoy coos as an elderly man strokes the image on the screen.
We’re not sure if that’s what GeriJoy told the Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Healthy Aging Forum this month when he appeared before it. He’ll also be on exhibit at the AARP Health Innovation@50+ Tech Expo on May 31 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, according to the AARP blog.
To get GeriJoy, one must subscribe, and pay from $99 to $129 a month. The hardware costs up to $349 for the most sophisticated, Internet-connected version.
GeriJoy was co-founded by Victor Wang, a former Canadian Army officer who did research on human-machine interaction for NASA while at MIT. He says he was inspired to develop the virtual dog by his grandmother in Taiwan, who became depressed while she was living alone.
Wang says GeriJoy can even serve as a watchdog. In one case, a user’s human caregiver was being verbally abusive, and GeriJoy “contacted the user’s daughter to let her know about it.”
“Whatever your loved one wants to know, the companion can find out and report back,” the website says. “It can send and receive messages and photos between you and your loved one, also via the Internet. All this is done through the intuitive metaphor of a talking dog. Your loved one doesn’t even need to know what a computer is.”
We don’t care if the day comes when a virtual dog can cook dinner, push a wheelchair, administer medications or help you understand your health insurance.
A real dog is better — even with his shedding and drooling. Real dogs bring one into, and keep one in, the moment. Real dogs can help you keep a grip on reality, as opposed to pulling you into fantasy land. And real dogs offer a true form of love and validation — even if they can’t say, at least with words, “Oh, you are so good.”
Posted by John Woestendiek May 24th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: aarp, aging, animals, animated, app, assisted living, computer, dementia, dog, dogs, elderly, gerijoy, health, image, internet, memory, mit, nursing homes, pets, talking, technology, unconditional love, virtual, virtual dog