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How The Hen House Turns: Master Smellers

on December 1, 2016 - 8:28am
Cary and Don Neeper and their dogs. Courtesy photo
 
By CARY NEEPER
Formerly of Los Alamos
 
An article in Science News, Oct.1, 2016 reports that the left side of a dog's brain is activated by the words "good boy." 
 
The right side responds to human voice intonation, according to Science Magazine, Dec. 2.
 
Human brains are no different: words' meanings are processed in the left side of the brain; the words' intonation is interpreted on the right side. It's another example of how closely related we are to some other mammals.
 
A University of Budapest neuroscientist says, "Dogs pay attention to human speech in a way cats and hamsters don't." To gather information, Andics and his colleagues at Budapest "...trained dogs to be still for functional MRI scans..."a remarkable accomplishment in itself. Neutral words had no dog brain response, but their right brains reacted to intonation, regardless of the words used.
 
Wow! Can I ever relate to that finding! I once cut loose at my painting easel—my dogs were asleep under the work table when my hand took off, making a big mess on the canvas. I guess I reacted verbally to my frustration. At least my tone of voice was a bit harsh. I don't remember.
 
What I do remember was the dogs' whimpering, and their unusual cowering, in reaction my frustration. It took me a few moments to convince them that they were innocent, and I would be my usual sane self now.
 
Could it be that linking "...word sequences to meaning is...not a unique human ability?" I can vouch for that in dogs. Our daughter's big black dog answers with a hearty tail wag when I answer his paw on my knee with a "do you want to go outside?" and our early Los Alamos dog, Poncho, did an immediate lay-down-and-sulk when I answered "No, we're not going" to his question about all the camping gear stacked in the hallway.
 
I'm sure the example could fill a large book. And -- Andics and I suspect in other animals, not just dogs, there is an ancient "...underlying reward mechanism for processing meaningful sounds." I'll keep my reading eye open for more information on that topic.
 
The Neeper dogs on a camping trip. Courtesy photo
 
The Neeper dogs prepare for naptime. Courtesy photo

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