Special Editions

Special episode

Thu, 27th Nov 2014

Does your dog understand you?

Bounder (c) Georgia Mills

Does your dog pay attention to what you say? Thinking back to the last time it rolled in something stinky, or ran off with your socks, you may not be convinced. But new research from the University of Sussex shows that man's best friend is at least listening; and not only to what we say, but how we say it. Georgia Mills spoke to Victoria Ratcliffe, who tested over 200 willing canines... 

Listen Now    Download as mp3



Subscribe Free

Related Content


Make a comment

Certainly everybody knows that dogs can learn a few trigger words.  There have been notes on the web about a dog called Chaser who has learned the name of about 1000 different objects, and apparently even used intuition to learn a novel name.

An interesting question might be how much the dog is listening to speech that isn't particularly directed at the pooch.  Or even directed at the pooch, but not containing the action words that it has previously learned.

Speech processing under a fMRI or PET scan would be quite interesting, although it would be difficult to keep the dog still on the table.  One could give the dog a paralytic, but that could be even more disturbing for the dog.

I think it has been noted elsewhere that one of the differences between a Chimpanzee and a dog is that the dogs pay much more attention to humans. CliffordK, Thu, 27th Nov 2014

My goodness! Only 20,000 years after Man started saying things like "mush" "stop" "sit" "fetch" "wait" and "kill", never mind shepherds' whistles, our academic colleagues have discovered the blindingly obvious. Yes, folks, we selectively breed, live with and work with dogs (and almost no other species) because they not only listen to us, but actually know what we want them to do, and are generally happy to do it. If only I could train human employees to the same standard! 

Sussex Uni would do well to meet with the Military Dog Regiment. About 30 years ago I attended a Ministry of Defence "garage sale" of declassified technology for civilian development. One of the best presentations was from the MDR, offering to train dogs as robust chemical detectors and suchlike. They explained that. in request for a squad of search and rescue dogs from the Polish police, they had found it quicker and more reliable  to teach the dogs Polish commands than to teach the dog  handlers English.

Even if you are talking about rather than to a dog, he will almost certainly cotton on to the fact, and respond to words lilke "walk" and "Bob" that he would otherwise ignore. And when I said "Sophie, I feed you, walk you, bathe you, and play with you. What do you do for me? " she gave me the look that says "I love you. What more could you want?" alancalverd, Thu, 27th Nov 2014

A rather interesting little snippet on our four legged friends, they are said to be the only other species to understand the concept of pointing. Don_1, Mon, 12th Jan 2015

Perhaps another comment on the obvious, but this article says dogs also understand the emotional content of speech, and like people, process informational and emotional meaning in different hemispheres of their brains. (The podcast might have the same information, but I have limited bandwidth)

cheryl j, Tue, 13th Jan 2015

I saw an experiment where domesticated dogs and wild wolves faced with the same challenging problem. As I recall it was a steak inside an enclosure with a non-obvious entrance.

Domesticated dogs sniffed around - some of the more "intelligent breeds" found the entrance, but most quickly gave up, and looked to their owner for a hint. A human pointing to the entrance sent them off in the right direction.

The wild canines basically ignored the humans, and kept searching around until they found the way in.

Perhaps by cooperation, humans and dogs can do more than either could alone?
Or maybe we just can't stand a creature that's smart enough to look after itself? evan_au, Fri, 16th Jan 2015

Sheep herding, game retrieving, and sledge driving come to mind. The dog does part of what it would do alone, and thanks to the organisational ability of the man, it never has to go hungry. Likewise guard dogs trade ears and teeth for food and shelter, and guide dogs earn their keep with their eyes and ears. 

Apart from keeping the cat in a constant state of nerves, and giving me That Look, however, I still haven't worked out what Sophie does for me. We just enjoy an occasional cuddle. alancalverd, Fri, 16th Jan 2015

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society