Yes, dogs can communicate with you

by on April 15, 2005 at 2:11 pm in Science | Permalink

I will never, ever, ever again cite anybody who claims that dogs do not communicate with us:

...dogs' barks have evolved into a relatively sophisticated way of communicating with humans. Adam Miklósi, an ethology professor, set out in a recent experiment to see if humans can interpret what dogs mean when they bark. He recruited 90 human volunteers and played them 21 recordings of barking Hungarian mudis, a herding breed.

The recordings captured dogs in seven situations, such as playing with other dogs, anticipating food, and encountering an intruder. The people showed strong agreement about the emotional meaning of the various barks, regardless of whether they owned a mudi or another breed of dog, or had never owned a dog. Owners and nonowners were also equally successful at deducing the situation that had elicited the barks, guessing correctly in a third of the situations, or about double the rate of chance.

…a raft of experiments by Mr. Csányi’s team and another led by Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, showed that dogs were far more skilled then either chimps or wolves at using human social cues to find food. Those results left researchers with this question: If dogs can pick up on human cues, do they turn the tables and put out cues for humans to understand?

To find out, Mr. Csányi and Réka Polgárdi, a graduate student, went to the homes of Budapest’s many dog owners. After introducing the researchers to the dogs, the owners would leave the room. Then the dogs would watch Mr. Csányi hide a piece of food somewhere inaccessible to them. When the owners returned, the dogs would run or glance back and forth from master to hiding place, clearly signaling its location. More-recent experiments substituted nonfood objects and had similar results, which suggests the dogs may be placing themselves in their owner’s shoes, and realizing that the humans are ignorant of the object’s location.

The Hungarian researchers also discovered that dogs excel at imitating humans. In one of the laboratories down the hall from Mr. Csányi’s office, Zsófia Virányi, a post-doctoral researcher, demonstrates with Tódor, an enthusiastic little mutt that she hand-raised to serve as a member of a control group for another experiment. Tódor sits attentively as Ms. Virányi spins around in a circle and comes to a stop. "Csinal!" or "you do it!" she says, at which Tódor does a little 360 on the tiled floor and lets out an enthusiastic bark. He easily imitates Ms. Virányi’s bowing and lifting an arm (or paw, in his case).

Here is the full story, which contains much, much more.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: