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Author Topic: Research Shows Dogs Understand Language  (Read 2762 times) Average Rating: 0
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TomS
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« on: June 10, 2004, 08:00:26 AM »

Research Shows Dogs Understand Language

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
The Associated Press
Thursday, June 10, 2004; 7:45 AM

WASHINGTON - As many a dog owner will attest, our furry friends are listening. Now, for the doubters, there is scientific proof they understand much of what they hear.

German researchers have found a border collie named Rico who understands more than 200 words and can learn new ones as quickly as many children.

Patti Strand, an American Kennel Club board member, called the report "good news for those of us who talk to our dogs."

"Like parents of toddlers, we learned long ago the importance of spelling key words like bath, pill or vet when speaking in front of our dogs," Strand said. "Thanks to the researchers who've proven that people who talk to their dogs are cutting-edge communicators, not just a bunch of eccentrics."

The researchers found that Rico knows the names of dozens of play toys and can find the one called for by his owner. That is a vocabulary size about the same as apes, dolphins and parrots trained to understand words, the researchers say.

Rico can even take the next step, figuring out what a new word means.

The researchers put several known toys in a room along with one that Rico had not seen before. From a different room, Rico's owner asked him to fetch a toy, using a name for the toy the dog had never heard.

The border collie, a breed known primarily for its herding ability, was able to go to the room with the toys and, seven times out of 10, bring back the one he had not seen before. The dog seemingly understood that because he knew the names of all the other toys, the new one must be the one with the unfamiliar name.

"Apparently he was able to link the novel word to the novel item based on exclusion learning, either because he knew that the familiar items already had names or because they were not novel," said the researchers, led by Julia Fischer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

A month later, he still remembered the name of that new toy three out of six times, even without having seen it since that first test. That is a rate the scientists said was equivalent to that of a 3-year-old.

Rico's learning ability may indicate that some parts of speech comprehension developed separately from human speech, the scientists said.

"You don't have to be able to talk to understand a lot," Fischer said. The team noted that dogs have evolved with humans and have been selected for their ability to respond to the communications of people.

Katrina Kelner, Science's deputy editor for life sciences, said "such fast, one-trial learning in dogs is remarkable. This ability suggests that the brain structures that support this kind of learning are not unique to humans and may have formed the evolutionary basis of some of the advanced language abilities of humans."

Perhaps, although Paul Bloom of Yale University urges caution.

"Children can understand words used in a range of contexts. Rico's understanding is manifested in his fetching behavior," Bloom writes in a commentary, also in Science.

Bloom calls for further experiments to answer several questions: Can Rico learn a word for something other than a small object to be fetched? Can he display knowledge of a word in some way other than fetching? Can he follow an instruction not to fetch something?

Fischer and her colleagues are still working with Rico to see if he can understand requests to put toys in boxes or to bring them to certain people. Rico was born in December 1994 and lives with his owners. He was tested at home.

Funding for this research was provided in part by the German Research Foundation.

---

On the Net:

Science:http://www.sciencemag.org

German Research Foundation:http://www.dfg.de/en/index.html

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology:http://www.eva.mpg.de

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Ebor
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« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2004, 08:24:15 AM »

Dogs come when you call them.  Cats take a message and might get back to you.

<grin>  yes, I have cats.

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« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2004, 08:39:10 AM »

That's like doing a study that proves that alchohol makes you drunk.

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« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2004, 08:57:45 AM »

I don't see how this could be a revelation for anyone who actually owns a dog.  Just say "bath" around my dog and watch it start sneaking away...

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« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2004, 09:03:28 AM »

I don't see how this could be a revelation for anyone who actually owns a dog.  Just say "bath" around my dog and watch it start sneaking away...

Yep. With mine, all I have to say is "vacuum". She hates the noise.
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« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2004, 09:05:19 AM »

BTW - I hear that somewhere the church canons say that dogs are not allowed in Church  Wink
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« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2004, 01:09:28 PM »

No dogs, but they allow cats.  That's probably because they're afraid they may learn too much of the liturgy and start wanting to become communicants.  With cats this isn't a problem.

Cat's could learn language as well, they just don't apply themselves.  It's a real shame to see.  So keep your kids away from cats and cat food or they may end up like a cat: wandering the streets, not caring where they'll sleep, eating garbage from the trash can, getting in fights, or being a friend to anyone as long as they just give them another hit of cat food.
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« Reply #7 on: June 10, 2004, 01:33:32 PM »

Why should cats learn human talk? It would be lowering themselves.  Besides, they make sure the human servants understand their wants pretty well.

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« Reply #8 on: June 10, 2004, 02:58:49 PM »

I attended  services at a monastery a couple of times that had a sheepdog. He new he was not allowed to be in the chapel. I  enjoyed watching him slip his paw towards the chapel entrance then look towards his archimandrite master
to see if he would get caught!

My Blue Heelers hate strangers, especially the male. But they get real quiet and attentive when the priest douses them with Holy Water during house blessing!

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« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2004, 03:11:19 PM »

My spiritual father's old cat once climbed into an occupied casket at his old monastery.  The casket was left in the chapel overnight and the next day, they couldn't find the cat anywhere.  They finally went into the chapel to start the hours and in the middle of a psalm, the cat came out FROM THE CASKET.

It apparently spent the night curled up near the feet!

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« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2004, 06:00:46 PM »

wow, I'm sure that nearly gave someone a heart attack. Smiley
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« Reply #11 on: June 11, 2004, 06:20:23 AM »

My understanding is that cats are "ok" to be inside Churches, where as dogs are not.  I'm willing to guess the rule primarily had to do with cats being perceived as not being as dirty as dogs (which I think is true), and if they "have to go" will go somewhere where they can bury their business (also cats were darn useful - they'd kill any mice they found in the Church).  So, part of the problem may have had to do with the lack of thorough domestication/training of dogs in the old days.  I also think some of it had to do with the Biblical perception of dogs being unclean animals in general, like swine.  In the Gospel for example, "dog" is often used in a less than flattering way to describe certain people (if memory serves, unclean pagans.)  So this symbolism might have something to do with the old canons against dogs being in Churches as well.
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« Reply #12 on: June 11, 2004, 11:12:47 PM »

This makes sense Augustine. In generalDogs are not quite as well thought of in the Mediteranian World and the Middle East. Poor underfed creepy dogs, living on garbage, half wild sheepdogs chasing strangers in isolated parts of Greece-Not exactly Lassie or a Golden Retriever!
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« Reply #13 on: June 12, 2004, 11:10:02 AM »

Not trying to be difficult here, but there is no canon I have seen cited that actually says "No dogs".  The only one that has come up is one  from Trullo about cattle and if it is necessary to perserve the animal of a traveler it may come into the church.

http://www.ccel.org/fathers/NPNF2-14/6trullo/canon88.htm

Data point: in Japanese Buddhist temples was a divider called in Heian times at least a "dog barrier", it seemed rather like the railing/structure that marks the sanctuary in Christian churches.

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« Reply #14 on: June 12, 2004, 03:15:32 PM »

Interestingly, for the Zoroastrians, the dog is not seen as unclean but as a sacred animal, even in some cases as a purifying one. Dogs are to be treated with respect and veneration, and to kill or harass one is a great sin. When a person dies, the first thing Zoroastrians do is have a dog gaze upon the body, to drive away any demons that may be hanging around it. Zoroastrianism isn't too terribly important a religion today, but 2000 years ago it was a force to be reckoned with in the Mediterranean; of course, Islam follows the general Semitic tradition of seeing dogs as unclean as pigs, so when it came through it probably wiped out any dog veneration in the area.

Does anybody know what the Graeco-Romans thought about dogs in ancient times?
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« Reply #15 on: October 02, 2005, 09:25:39 AM »

Quote
That's like doing a study that proves that alchohol makes you drunk...

...I don't see how this could be a revelation for anyone who actually owns a dog.

You guys are forgetting one thing. For a materialist dedicated to science as his/her religion, nothing is factual until it is proven scientifically (ie. using modern scientific methods). That people have universally known something as an obvious fact or matter of common sense for thousands of years is totally irrelevant. Until someone does a study and publishes the results in a peer-reviewed journal, some people can't admit what everyone else already knows (or should know). Thus we have studies like this, or like the ones that got all the headlines about -- could it really be true? -- how men and women really are different. Wow, shocking!
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« Reply #16 on: October 02, 2005, 10:08:10 AM »

Saw some photographs that demonstrate Gorillas use tools and walk upright, the photographs show two female gorillas crossing swampy water and using a stick to test the depth of the water, while walking upright. While some other primates are known to use tools it had been thought gorillas didn't. Every day you know more.

As regards language, I think if you look at both peoples' experience of dogs and studies of dogs, there are more intelligent and less intelligent dogs; and intelligence does not allows equate with obedience. As to understanding, is it understanding or association when a dog responds to a 'trigger' word like "walkies"? Understanding, surely, suggests more than mere association?

I like many dogs, but am not always keen on their owners and sometimes wonder if some of the owners understand language. Perhaps that is another subject altogether.
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« Reply #17 on: October 04, 2005, 12:03:21 PM »

Does anybody know what the Graeco-Romans thought about dogs in ancient times?

You may find this page of interest.

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