From how dogs understand our words to proof that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks, here’s 10 cool things science taught us about dogs this year.
1. Your Dog Understands Words More Than You Think
A new study found that dogs respond not only to the tone in which we use, but that they understand many of the words we’re saying. Researchers used brain scans from 13 dogs and recorded their responses to their owner’s voice. The dogs heard both meaningful words (good boy) and meaningless ones. When analyzed the research found that dogs process meaningful words in the left hemisphere or their brain, just like humans do – yet they didn’t use the same process for meaningless words.
2. Study Finds That Dogs May Have Episodic Memories
Researchers studied 17 dogs and found that they were able to remember & imitate their owners actions up to an hour later. The dogs were trained to imitate their owner’s actions with the do as I do method. The results found that dogs could recall their owners actions when unexpectedly requested to imitate them up to an hour later.
3. Stress Can Make Dogs go Grey Just Like Humans
Earlier this year we found out that stress can make dogs go grey early. The study found that dogs who suffered from anxiety were more likely to show signs of premature greying. The study focused on 400 dogs, age 1-4, and the researchers found that a fear of noises & unfamiliar people were significant predicting factors in early greying. The researchers did not find any predictors of premature greying when looking at a dogs age, sex or spay/neuter status.
4. Playtime After Training Can Improve a Dogs Memory
A recent study found that dogs who engage in play immediately after learning something new seems to enhance their memory. The dogs in the study were split into two groups; those that got to play after learning and those who rested after. When the dogs were tested on the same task the next day the dogs who had engaged in play performed much better when re-learning the task than those in the rest group.
5. Vocal Praise Means Just as Much to Dogs as a Food Reward
New research found that vocal praise means as much to dogs as food, if not more. The study analyzed dogs in groups of 15 who were trained to sit in MRI machines for three 10 minute sessions. After the first session, the dogs were given a hotdog, verbal praise for the second, and nothing for the third. For 13 of the 15 dogs their brains lit up just as much for verbal praise as they did for food.
6. Your Dog Will Learn to Ignore Bad Directions
Earlier this year a study found that if you give your bad directions he’ll learn to ignore you pretty quick. The study involved 40 dogs who were given a puzzle with a treat inside. The puzzle itself only required one step to get the treat – lifting the lid of a box. But the researchers added in an unnecessary step – pulling a lever. The researchers showed the dogs how to get the treat by lifting the lid & pulling the lever, but it didn’t take long for the dogs to figure out the second step was unnecessary.
7. Dogs May Have Been Domesticated Twice in Eurasia
A new study found that dogs may have been domesticated twice, once in Asia and once in Europe. Researchers looked at genetics & archaeological records, including some partial DNA from 59 European dogs that lived 14,000 to 30,000 years ago. They compared those records with genetic data from over 600 modern dogs. Archaeologists previously found dog remains in Germany that may be 16,000 years old, suggesting that dogs had already been domesticated in Europe before the dogs from Asia arrived.
8. Dogs Reduce Stress in Families with Autistic Children
Research found that having a dog in the home can reduce stress in families with Autistic children. The study was a follow up to a previous study that looked at the short term benefits a dog can have on families with autistic children. 2.5 years later the researchers found that thos
e short term last years beyond their initial findings, and that the stress levels of those families continues to decline.
9. Our Dogs Don’t Trust Us When We’re Angry
A recent study found that dogs have a delayed response when receiving instructions from someone whose angry. The study had dogs follow the lead of someone pointing to a hidden reward. The person pointing would either smile & talk in a happy voice or frown and speak in a negative tone. The study found no difference between the response time of the dogs when following gestures from a happy or neutral person, but when the person was angry the dogs showed a significant delay in response time.
10. Science Proves That You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
A new 3 year study found that not only can old dogs learn new tricks, but that they perform certain tricks even better. The study looked at 95 Border Collies that ranged in age from 5 months to 13 years old. The dogs were put in front of a touch screen and shown two photos at a time. There were 8 photos total, 4 of which would give a treat when touched and 4 that gave nothing. When the older dogs were shown one of the previous “bad” photos (one that didn’t reward a treat) next to a brand-new photo they hadn’t seen they were able to determine which one was the “good” one better than their younger counterparts.
BY JEN GABBARD