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article imageWill technology allow us to talk to our dogs?

By Tim Sandle     Sep 11, 2016 in Science
Some scientists are hopeful that a device will be created to allow humans to 'directly' communicate to their dogs. This is based on dogs being able to 'understand' some aspects of human vocabulary.
The subject of human-to-dog communication has been ignited by an article by molecular biologist Adriana Heguy on the interactive question and answer website Quora. The question posed was "If dogs understand human vocabulary what are the limits of complexity in human to dog communication?" and this prompted a thoughtful answer from Heguy, according to a summary of the discussion by Forbes.
In her reply, Heguy notes: "There are clear biological constraints that are specific to each species. However, this does not mean that humans cannot in the future find a way around those limitations using technology."
Given that "we domesticated dogs and applied selective forces that resulted in astonishing inter-species communication" Heguy thinks that new techniques, perhaps coupled with technology, should be able to enhance existing forms of communication and aid dogs in learning more human words and to communicate back.
Because "dogs use the same brain regions that we humans use to interpret words and intonation of the voice" it should be possible to aid dogs in accessing more of this brain capacity. This draws on a paper published in the journal Science titled "Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs." This paper suggests that dogs are capable of understanding more, and it concluded: "neural mechanisms to separately analyze and integrate word meaning and intonation in dogs suggest that this capacity can evolve in the absence of language."
In terms of proof-of-concept, a Border Collie named Rico learned over two hundred words, definitively showing that dogs are capable of understanding speech. This formed the basis of a separate Science journal punished study titled "Word Learning in a Domestic Dog: Evidence for 'Fast Mapping'." With a series of laboratory studies it was found that Rico could reliably associate arbitrary acoustic patterns (human words) with specific items in his environment.
It is likely that some form of technology would be required to tap into the brain of dogs to enhance understanding. What form this would take is uncertain, but the capacity of digs to understand more certainly seems to be there.
More about talking to dogs, Dogs, Technology, Animals
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