Posts tagged with "Eotvos Lorand University"

Bow-WOW: Talent seems to be just as much a gift in dogs as it is in people

July 19, 2021

Whether it’s seeing a child take only a few seconds to learn Mary had a Little Lamb on the piano, experiencing getting wiped out by a much better player in a pickup basketball game, or witnessing someone’s encyclopedic memory while they rattle off statistics about geography, humans see natural talent every day.

Now, a study seeking the origin of “natural talent” in dogs has been published in Nature. What it found: Just as in humans, some particular pooches display more innate talent than others do.

According to The Good News Network, this story has a lot to do with border collies—a dog species that the authors of the study note has been bred for herding sheep and, therefore, has had to be extra-cognizant of owners’ calls, instructions, and whistles.

The American Kennel Club reported last year on a border collie named Chaser, who had 1,022 toys and knew the individual names of every on; while Science reported on one named Rico who knew the names of 200 toys and could very quickly retrieve those for which he had no name by using exclusion learning and inference at about the level of a three-year-old child.

Locating 34 dog owners across the globe using social media, researcher  Claudia Fugazza of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest decided to test whether the pooches could attach specific names to all the toys they played with, and be able to recognize and respond to those names immediately.

Of those 34 dogs, only one border collie succeeded—a young female named Olivia, who sadly died of health complications before the trial could be finished.

But the work continues: “[W]e decided to set up a study in which both puppies and adult naïve dogs are systematically and intensively trained for learning at least two object names over a three-month period, and we used a strictly controlled testing method to assess the dogs’ learning outcome every month from the start of the training,” wrote Fugazza in her paper.

In this study, each month, a scientist visits a dog’s house and tests to see if he or she can retrieve an object based on it name. As each dog succeeds, another word is added.

Perhaps the surprising thing is that of the 34 dogs, 19 were border collies, and 18 of them failed to learn a single name. Also interesting was that, outside of the study, their same research method found that six border collies that could already learn names could continue to learn more.

The hypothesis was that some dogs with certain neurological plasticity owing to either early-life training or breed-activity would have better abilities.

However, the dogs learned the names of toys “irrespectively of the age of the subjects and despite intensive training,” the researchers wrote, concluding by saying that “while a few rare individuals can rapidly master multiple object names, we suggest that the capacity to learn object-names in dogs shows analogies with exceptional performance (talent) in humans.”

It seems that it’s just as hard to find out why Mozart was Mozart as it is to find out why Chaser the border collie was Chaser the border collie.

Research contact: @goodnewsnetwork

Seeing eye-to-eye: Why we love pugs—and other snub-nosed dogs

June 15, 2021

If you’ve ever wondered why some dogs seem eager to make eye contact with people and others don’t, a new study offers some clues.

Dogs that are snub-nosed, young. or playful—and those that have been bred to respond to visual cues, such as shepherd breeds—are the most likely to look directly into the human eye, researchers have found. And it’s that loving eye contact with a dog that can help build a close bond with humans, NBC News reports.

Eye contact is a very important signal for us humans,” says the study’s lead author, Zsófia Bognár, a Ph.D. student in the department of Ethology and a research member of the Senior Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Nature journal Scientific Reports.

Shorter-headed dogs—among them, boxers, bulldogs, French bulldogs, Boston terriers and pug— have that earnest gaze because their eyes are structured differently from those of other dogs; they have more retinal ganglion cells, which are responsible for initial processing visual information in the center of their visual fields, the researchers said. That means they can more easily focus on what’s in front of them, such as human owners.

What’s more, puppies and playful canines also are more likely to stare into their owners’ eyes. The working or herding dogs are a natural, because they are bred to “perform their tasks alongside humans,” Bognár said. “They are in continuous visual contact with their owner or handler.”

By contrast, dogs with long snouts have eyes more geared to peripheral vision; that is, seeing what is beside them, rather than what is in front of them..

While some dogs might naturally seek eye contact, that doesn’t mean others can’t learn, Bognár said in an email to the network. “Although dog-human eye contact can be affected by at least four independent traits on the dogs’ side, it does not mean that these are the only things [that] determine your relationship with your dog.”

Other studies have shown that humans and dogs benefit from locking eyes: Levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, rise for both species when they make and hold eye contact.

To explore what factors might make eye contact more likely, Bognár and her colleagues rounded up 125 family dogs for the behavior experiment. All the dogs were run through a battery of tests, which started with the dogs’ meeting an unfamiliar experimenter. In a later part of the series, the dogs were invited to play with the experimenter.MARCH 29, 202106:00

The tenth test evaluated the dogs’ willingness to make eye contact with their new human friends.

In that test, a researcher stood in the middle of a room in the lab with a food pouch attached to her belt, called the dog to her, and threw a piece of sausage on the ground when the dog arrived. The experimenter then stood still and waited until the dog made eye contact with her and then rewarded the dog with another bit of sausage.

What they found was that, even among dogs that didn’t lock eyes during the experiment, the pooches were willing to be trained to do it.

“You can improve your dog’s willingness to form eye contact, which could improve your relationship, too,” Bognár told NBC News.

Indeed, Dr. Katherine Houpt, an emeritus professor of Animal Behavioral Medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, in Ithaca, New York, said it’s a good idea to train a dog to make eye contact.

“Because if you say ‘look’ and the dog looks into your eyes, he’s not focused on the car going by or another dog he wants to chase,” Houpt said. “You’ll have more control over him, as well as a better relationship.”

“It’s really easy to train a dog to do it,” Houpt said. “You hold a piece of food away from you. Most, if they can’t get what they want, will look up at you. As soon as they do, you say ‘look’ and give the food. After about 20 times, it becomes a command.”

Eye contact is important to humans, said Anne Burrows, a specialist in Evolutionary Anatomy and a professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

“I volunteer at a dog shelter, and those that do not make eye contact don’t go very fast,” she said.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Bunny, the dog that can ‘talk,’ starts asking existential questions

May 12, 2021

When Bunny, TikTok’s beloved talking Sheepadoodle, stared at herself in a mirror and asked “Who this?” using her augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device’s buttons, many followers believed she was having an existential crisis. Since then, the Internet-famous dog seemingly has become more interested in her own, dare we say,“sense of self,” Salon reports.

More recently on April 24, Alexis Devine, Bunny’s human parent—an artist based in Tacoma, Washington—has posted a video of Bunny pressing a button for “dog,” then a second button for “what,” a third button for “dog” and a fourth one for “is.” “Dog what dog is?” Devine narrated.

“This is happening so frequently that I’m going to add the buttons ‘animal’ ‘same’ and ‘different,'” Devine wrote in the caption which accompanied the Instagram post. 

The canine Bunny, who has 6.5 million followers on TikTok, is one of nearly 2,600 dogs and 300 cats enrolled in a project called “They Can Talk.” The study’s aim is to understand if animals can communicate with humans through AAC systems. AAC systems—such as Bunny’s giant labeled buttons that speak a single word when pressed—originally were designed to help humans with communication disorders. Yet they have been adapted to be used in language experiments with animals, such as the study Bunny is enrolled in, which is led by Federico Rossano, director of the Comparative Cognition Lab at the University of California–San Diego.

In Rossano’s study, participants receive instructions on how to set up their AAC buttons for their pets; generally, pets begin with easy words like “outside” and “play.” Pet parents set up cameras to constantly monitor the animals when they are in front of their boards—data that then is sent to the lab so that researchers examine what they say.

Now, Bunny’s followers have become obsessed with the notion that her language-learning is making her develop some kind of self-awareness. Is that possible?

And if so, does learning language have something to do with it?

“The question here is, is this a behavior that has been trained — like, look, I’m going to show you this individual here, this is ‘you’ or ‘dog,’ and don’t be afraid of it, and then over time the dog learns that,” Rossano told Salon. “Or to what degree is this spontaneous?”

If it is spontaneous, the research around the ethology for canines could get really interesting. Scientific evidence has previously suggested that dogs don’t recognize themselves in the mirror. The so-called mirror test is used to determine whether an animal has the ability of visual self-recognition, and is considered a marker of intelligence in animals. Elephants, chimpanzees, and dolphins are among the animals who have passed the test, but dogs typically don’t.

That might suggest dogs possess a lack of self-awareness. However, separate studies have shown that dogs can recognize their own scent, which hints at the opposite.

Péter Pongrácz, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, was curious if the standard mirror test was sufficient enough to determine whether or not dogs have “self-representation”—which, as Pongrácz explained, is what ethologists prefer to call “self-awareness” in animals. This curiosity led Pongrácz and a team of researchers to study dogs’ “self-representation” in a test called “the body as an obstacle.” As a behavioral test, the dogs were tasked with picking up an object and giving it to their owners while standing on a small mat. However, the object was attached to the mat, forcing the dogs to leave the mat in order to lift the object.

“Dogs came off the mat more frequently and sooner in the test condition, than in the main control condition, where the object was attached to the ground,” the researchers write in a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports published by Nature. “This is the first convincing evidence of body awareness through the understanding of the consequence of own actions in a species where previously no higher-order self-representation capacity was found.”

Pongrácz told Salon via email that the “body as an obstacle test” is more suitable for dogs, and perhaps, theoretically, could be for more species because animals are then forced “to negotiate physical challenges where their bodies can impede their actions.” Pongrácz added that mental capacity is “complicated” and should be thought of as something that consists of “several building blocks.”

“Dogs are large bodied, fast moving animals that live in a complex environment and they have a well-developed cognitive capacity; therefore, it was reasonable to hypothesize that they would benefit from being capable of understanding that they ‘have a body’ that can interact with the environment,” Pongrácz said.

“As our test proved this, yes, we can say that dogs are aware of their body—and, as body-awareness is part of the complex self-representation system, yes, they can be considered as being self-aware,” he added.

As an online spectator observing her, it is hard to deny that Bunny isn’t becoming more curious about what “dogs” are, as she has been recorded wandering over to her word board pressing “dog” and then “what.” Another time, she asked “dog” and then “why,” which humans might interpret as her asking why she’s a dog. Devine says on Instagram that this line of questioning occurs “regularly” now.

But as Rossano said, the tricky part is sussing out what is learned behavior and what is Bunny’s own doing. And that’s a separate question from whether the AAC device has influenced her sense of self. After all, as Pongrácz said, mental capacity is comprised of building blocks; language may be just another block.

“I think there’s a good reason to believe that Bunny is probably capable of a sense of self and recognizing herself in the mirror, but to what degree is spontaneous versus learned over repeated exposures, I would say it’s more likely to be the latter than the former,” Rossano said, adding that “self-awareness” wasn’t something they were interested in measuring at first in the “They Can Talk” study. But now, that’s changed.

“We know that language helps not just communicate with others, but also helps us categorize; and it also gives us some sense of consistency and continuity over time,” Rossano said. In other words, self-awareness and language could be connected, as

Rossano said a new, key interest of his study is whether or not dogs have a sense of

Research contact: @Salon