News

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.

Legislation opens more doors for assistance dogs

Published: 27th of October 2015
Community Health & Wellness Queensland Government

People with disability will benefit from improved access and streamlined services after the passing of the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Amendment Bill in state Parliament.

Disability Services Minister Coralee O’Rourke said the Amendment Bill had improved the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009 by closing gaps identified during its review.

“Guide, hearing and assistance dogs are special working dogs trained to allow people with disability to get out in the community and be more independent,” Mrs O’Rourke said.

“They perform a range of tasks that help people with various disabilities in their daily lives, such as calling for lifts, picking up parcels, turning on lights and paying cashiers.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see many of these working dogs in action and the impact of their role can’t be underestimated.

“We’re committed to improving the lives of people with disability and we expect the changes to this legislation will do just that.”

Changes under the Amendment Bill include expanding the access rights to alternative handlers who may be required to assist a primary handler to control a certified dog (for example, a child with disability) and authorising trainers and training institutions to issue handler identity cards.

The Bill has removed the need for handlers to prove a disability when renewing identity cards and restrictions have been lifted on the certification of dogs belonging to shareholders, directors and employees of training institutions.

The Bill will also equip departmental authorised officers with greater powers to investigate any complaints made and enforce compliance with the Act.

Changes are expected to come into effect in 2016.

Minister O’Rourke said a communication strategy had been developed in partnership with industry stakeholders to raise awareness of the Act.

“Under Queensland law these specially-trained and certified dogs have the same access rights in public places as everyone else,” she said.

“This includes shops, hospitality venues, rental and holiday accommodation, taxis, aircraft, public transport and entertainment and sporting facilities.

“I want business owners and people in the broader community to be aware of these rights.”

Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Seniors and Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland
The Honourable Coralee O’Rourke