Cookie use on MRCVSonline
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive all cookies.
If you would like to forward this story on to a friend, simply fill in the form below and click send.

Your friend's email:
Your email:
Your name:
 
 
Send Cancel

Study reveals insights into how dogs process words
The study was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter an MRI scanner and remain motionless during scanning.

Scans show novel words cause greater activity in the dog’s brain than learned words

Researchers from Emory University, Atlanta, have revealed new insights into how dogs process human language.

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, the scientists describe an experiment in which they used MRI to learn how dogs process words they have been taught to associate with objects.

The team found that dogs have at least a limited neural representation of the meaning of words - differentiating words they have heard before from those they have not.

In the study, 12 dogs of varying breeds were trained by their owners to retrieve two different objects based on their names. To make it easier for the dog to tell the difference, the objects were made of different materials (e.g one soft toy and one made of rubber).

The dogs were trained to fetch one of the objects and then rewarded with food or praise. Training was complete when a dog showed that it could distinguish between the objects by continuously fetching the one requested by the owner when shown both of the objects.

Next, the trained dog lay in an MRI scanner whilst its owner stood at the opening and said the names of the dog’s toys at set intervals. The owner then showed the dog the corresponding toys.

One dog, for example, heard his owner say the words “piggy” or “monkey,” then his owner held up the corresponding toy. The owner then spoke gibberish words, like “bodmick” and “bobo,” and held up novel objects such as a doll or hat.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the novel words caused greater activity in the auditory regions of the dog’s brain than the trained words.

“We expected to see that dogs neurally discriminate between words that they know and words that they don’t,” said senior author and Emory neuroscientist Gregory Berns. “What’s surprising is that the result is opposite to that of research on humans — people typically show greater neural activation for known words than novel words.”

Researchers hypothesise that the dogs may show greater brain activity to a novel word because they sense their owners want them to understand what they are saying, and are trying to do so - perhaps in return for praise or food.

The study was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter an MRI scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without sedation or restraint.

Increased activation for novel words was observed in 50 per cent of the dogs taking part in the experiment. This increased activity took place in the parietotemporal cortex - an area of the brain that is comparable to the angular gyrus in humans, where lexical differences are processed.

The other half of dogs showed heightened activity to novel words in other brain regions, including the amygdala, caudate nucleus and the thalamus. Researchers said the differences could be linked to the limited size of the study and the varying range in breeds and sizes of dog.

Become a member or log in to add this story to your CPD history

AWF Student Grant open for submissions

News Story 1
 Applications are open for the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) Student Grant Scheme for innovative research projects designed to impact animal welfare.

Undergraduate and postgraduate students of veterinary science, veterinary nursing, agriculture studies and animal welfare are invited to submit their proposals to undertake research projects next year.

Grants are decided based on the project’s innovation, relevance to topical animal welfare issues and ability to contribute towards raising animal welfare standards. For more information visit animalwelfarefoundation.org.uk.  

Click here for more...
News Shorts
SPANA film highlights plight of working animals overseas

Animal welfare charity SPANA (The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) has teamed up with Brian Blessed and other famous voices to highlight the plight of working animals overseas.

In a new animated film, the celebrities raise awareness by showing the solidarity of the UK's own working animals on strike. A sniffer dog (Brian Blessed), police horse (Peter Egan) and sheepdog (Deborah Meaden) are shown ignoring their duties and protesting in solidarity with animals in developing countries.

SPANA chef executive Geoffrey Dennis said: "We are so grateful to Deborah, Peter and Brian for lending their voices to our new film, and for speaking up for millions of working animals overseas. SPANA believes that a life of work should not mean a life of suffering, and it is only thanks to people’s generosity and support that we can continue our vital work improving the lives of these animals."