When we tell our animals that we love them, we'd like to think they know what we're talking about. This is especially true for dog owners, because - as hard as this is to say as a cat owner - dogs are the animals that form the closest bonds with us as humans. But can dogs really understand what we're going on about, or are they just humouring us because they love us so much?
Thanks to a border collie named Chaser, we have proof that the smartest dogs can not only understand individual words - Chaser knows at least 1,000 of them, which gives him the vocabulary of a four-year-old child - but they can make the distinction between nouns and verbs. Watch him go in the latest episode of It's Okay To Be Smart above.
How do other dogs fare? In the episode, Joe Hanson talks about an experiment completed by researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK in which sounds were emitted from speakers positioned on both sides of their dog volunteers. "When dogs heard commands stripped of their emotional context, they turned their heads to the right, suggesting that they processed verbal meaning in their left hemisphere," says Joe. "And when they heard the emotional sounds in the voice, but the words were jumbled, they turned to the left, suggesting that they process emotional sounds on the right."
Which proves that dogs have the ability to separate the meaning of words from their emotional context, so that's pretty impressive, but it's not like dogs are sitting there thinking about whether or not they would consider themselves to be a good boy, or if they really do want to go for a walk right now. It's a bit like Clever Hans, says Joe, the horse that appeared to be able to complete basic maths equations, when in reality he was just interpreting the physical cues his handlers were inadvertently feeding to him.
And this makes sense - even when humans are conversing with each other, we can convey so much more through our facial expressions than we ever can with our words alone, and dogs have figured out how to tune into the most important player - our eyes. They are the only non-primate animals to seek out eye contact with humans, and they evolved this behaviour purely in the interests of understanding what we mean.
So that's pretty smart. But can humans do the same? Can we understand what our dogs are trying to say to us? Watch the latest episode of It's Okay To Be Smart above to find out.
And while you're at it, find out if our dogs really miss us when we're gone by watching the latest episode of BrainCraft.
Source: It's Okay To Be Smart