Friday, 1 February 2008

dogs' ability to interact successfully with humans

Sometimes when we're out walking Penny trots off with the wrong set of human legs and then does a double-take when she realises her mistake. She comes racing back to her own pack of humans and it seems that she looks up at our faces to make sure she's got it right this time. This goes against the suggestion I've heard that our dogs know us by our scent only.

Today at Springer link I read the abstract of an article from the Animal Cognition journal. It basically says that dogs can recognise their owners' faces.
The experimenters showed dogs a photo of a human just after playing someone's voice. When the owner's voice was followed by the same person's face, the dogs didn't look for as long as they did if the voice and face didn't match. The abstract says:
This suggests that dogs actively generate their internal representation of the owner's face when they hear the owner calling them. This is the first demonstration that nonhuman animals do not merely associate auditory and visual stimuli but also actively generate a visual image from auditory information.

Also, when a stranger's voice was followed by the owner's face, the dogs looked for a longer time. The researchers say:
Generating a particular visual image in response to an unfamiliar voice should be difficult, and any expected images from the voice ought to be more obscure or less well defined than that of the owners. However, our subjects looked longer at the owner's face in Incongruent condition than in Congruent condition. This may indicate that dogs may have predicted that it should not be the owner when they heard the unfamiliar person's voice.

Many discussions about dogs work on the supposition that they are generally wolf-like. I tend towards the belief that they have had such a long association with humans that they can't be fed or trained as if they were just tame wolves. Therefore I was interested to read, in a magazine called Science, another study that suggests that dogs are better than wolves (and better even than the Great Apes, those close relatives of mankind) at reading the communication signals of humans. In the experiment the dogs did better than wolves raised by humans or than chimps on a task where they used human body language to find where food had been hidden.

Probably no surprises there for anyone who lives with a dog, but interesting to see it proven scientifically.


Amber-Mae said...

I can recognize whether it's mu hoomans or not without even having to smell for their scent. Just by hearing their voices, their tones & the way they talk or call out my name, I can already tell it's them! It's in my memory...And also, just by looking at their faces & body. My nose is no good so I can't really smell their scent, not even mah ball! Hehehe!

Love licks,
Solid Gold Dancer

parlance said...

Amber-Mae, I think you must be so busy winning all those awards and doing all those fun activities that you don't need to have a good sense of smell!

curator said...

Yes, that IS an interesting study - all the more so when you reflect that dogs have varying ability - but they do have one - of interpreting human speech and possibly even reasoning.

parlance said...

Curator, Yes!! I'm quite convinced that their ability to reason is outstanding. Of course, cats are also amazingly intelligent. It seems to be a different type of intelligence, though.