Dogs understand more than you think
ANN/THE STAR – Dog enthusiasts often claim that their furry companions can recognise their names and comprehend much more than we might think.
Many sceptics argue that animals lack the level of awareness that humans possess. Nonetheless, ingenious experiments have emerged to settle this debate.
In 2004, researchers at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig published a study in the journal Science, revealing the remarkable abilities of a German border collie named Rico.
Rico had learned to identify and fetch over 200 objects by their names. Conducted in Germany, the trials posed a simple question to Rico: “Wo ist der Banane (Where’s the banana)?”
In response, Rico eagerly scurried into the adjacent room, meticulously searched among his toys, and triumphantly retrieved the banana toy, earning him top marks for his language comprehension.
The researchers concluded that Rico attached meaning to sounds, something human children learn to do when they are toddlers. Several studies have made similar conclusions, including a recent trial in 2020 where researchers at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, tried to see if dogs could distinguish between real words and nonsense words.
They took 17 trained dogs who knew words like “sit” and “stay” and fitted them with sensors (using removable glue to fix suction cup scanners to their heads for a few minutes, nothing nasty or invasive) that measured electrophysiological brain activity.
The tester then played a tape with a mix of real commands, like sit, almost correct commands like sid or si, and then with nonsense words, like flughst.
The dogs’ electrophysiological brain activity showed they recognised the commands and almost perfect commands but there was no significant reaction for the nonsense words.
The researchers took this to mean the dog are not great at noticing mistakes; possibly, dogs just know we mess up a lot.