Dogs are special. Every dog owner knows this. And most dog owners feel that their dog understands every word they say and every move they make. Research over the past two decades has shown that dogs can truly understand human communication in a way that no other species can. However, a new study confirms that if you want to train your new pup there is a certain way you should talk to him or her to maximize the likelihood that he will follow what you say.
There is already a lot of research showing that the way we communicate with dogs is different from the way we communicate with other people. When we talk to dogs, we use what is known as “dog-driven speech”. This means that we change the structure of our sentences, shorten and simplify them. We also tend to speak at a higher pitch in our voices. We also do this when we are unsure whether we are understood or when we are talking to very young infants.
A new study showed that we use an even higher pitch when talking to puppies and that this tactic really helps the animals pay more attention. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, showed that speaking to puppies with dog-controlled speech made them responsive and caring more about their human instructor than regular speaking.
To test this, the researchers use so-called “playback” experiments. They took pictures of people and repeated the phrase “Hi! Hey sweetie! Who is a good boy Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here honey What a good boy! “Each time the speaker was asked to look at photos of puppies, adult dogs, old dogs, or no photos. Analysis of the recordings revealed that the volunteers changed the way they talk to dogs of different ages.
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The researchers then played the recordings to several puppies and adult dogs and recorded the animals’ behavior in response. They found that the pups reacted more strongly to the footage while the speakers looked at pictures of dogs (the dog-driven speech).
The study did not find the same effect in adult dogs. However, other studies that recorded dogs’ responses to human voice in live interactions, including the work I did, have shown that dog-directed language can be useful for communicating with dogs of all ages.
Follow the point
It’s also proven (and most dog owners will tell you) that we can communicate with dogs through physical gestures. From puppy age, dogs respond to human gestures, such as pointing, in ways that other species cannot. The test is very simple. Place two identical cups in front of your dog, covering small pieces of food, and make sure that he cannot see the food and has no information about the contents of the cups. Now point to one of the two cups while you make eye contact with your dog. Your dog will follow your gesture to the mug you pointed at and explore the mug, expecting to find something underneath.
This is because your dog understands that your act is an attempt to communicate. This is fascinating as not even man’s closest living relatives, chimpanzees, seem to understand that humans are communicating intentions in this situation. Wolves – the dog’s closest living relatives – also not, even when raised like dogs in a human environment.
This has led to the idea that dogs’ abilities and behaviors in this area are actually adaptations to the human environment. This means that dogs have lived in close contact with humans for over 30,000 years and have developed communication skills that effectively match those of human children.
However, there are significant differences in how dogs understand our communication and how children do it. The theory is that, unlike children, dogs view people’s pointing as a kind of mild command telling them where to go rather than conveying information. On the other hand, when you point to a child, they think you are telling them something.
This ability of dogs to recognize “spatial guidelines” would be the perfect adaptation to living with humans. For example, dogs have been used for thousands of years as a kind of “social tool” to help herding and hunting when they had to be guided over a great distance by gestural instructions. The latest research confirms the idea that dogs have not only developed the ability to recognize gestures, but also a special sensitivity to the human voice that helps them know when to respond to what is being said.
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.