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Dogs understand both language and intonation, making their brains similar to humans’

The World Today By Anne Barker

cientists have come up with proof that shows dogs not only understand human language, but also know the difference between genuine praise and meaningless words.

Key points:

  • Study confirms dogs use different parts of the brain to understand language
  • They only registered praise when both the words and intonation were positive
  • Experiment suggests humans developed language earlier than previously thought

The research was conducted at the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, where they scanned the brains of 13 dogs trained to lie in MRI scanners and monitored what happened as they listened to their owners speak to them.

Dr Attila Andics, who led the study, said it confirmed that just like humans, dogs used different parts of the brain to understand language.

“We’ve found that in dog brains, very similarly to what was found in the human brain, the left hemisphere is more involved in processing meaningful words,” he said.

“We’ve found the right hemisphere auditory brain region will respond differently to praising intonation and neutral intonation, independently of word meaning.”

That means the dogs only registered they were being praised when both the words and intonation were positive.

Experiment offers a clue to when humans started using words

Dr Andics was most excited by what the experiment revealed about how and when humans developed language.

He said the findings suggested the mental ability to process language evolved in humans earlier than previously thought. There’s no special neuron mechanism, it seems from this study, in humans that made us able to start using words. It’s something else, it has to be something else,” Dr Andics said.

“Because the neural mechanism is there in dogs as well”. It seems that the ‘big boom’, if anything, is the actual invention of humans to start using words.

“The very idea that we can use words, and not only intonation, to communicate our feelings.”

The research was published in this month’s Science journal

Calls to improve regulations for assistance animals

Source: Australian Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission has responded to an increased number of complaints regarding assistance animals, by holding a forum with various stakeholders to discuss issues around certification, accreditation and regulation of assistance animals.

Assistance animals, particularly assistance dogs, guide dogs and hearing dogs provide invaluable support to some people with disability to enable them to participate in various activities of public and private life.

But there have been a number of cases brought to the Commission, where people with disability have complained that services providers have denied them access because they won’t accept their assistance dogs. This has been particularly problematic when it comes to air travel. Members of the Australian Government’s Aviation Access Forum and other groups agreed to hold a specific meeting to further discuss this issue in coming months.

Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, opened the meeting. “It is clear that there’s an appetite for clarification of some of these issues, particularly regarding training, certification and accreditation of assistance animals, and we have agreed to
continue to work together to progress the issues,” said Commissioner Ryan.