Tag Archives: communicate

Puppies are born ready to communicate with people

“Hi pup! Are you a good puppy? Yes, you are. Aww, look how cute you are. Look at those big eyes and floppy ears. You’re such a cute puppy! Do you like to play? Are these experiments fun?” That’s part of the dog-directed speech—baby talk, but for puppies—that Emily Bray, who studies dog psychology and development at the University of Arizona, recited to 375 puppies to see whether or not they would pay attention to human faces. 

To date most studies looking into the human cognition that dogs display have been carried out on adult dogs. Adult dogs excel at following these social cues, even more so than the chimpanzees that we’re much more closely related to. 

But it’s unclear how much of that behavior is ingrained in dogs from the beginning—enter the puppies. In this (rather unfairly) adorable study, researchers looked to see whether the way dogs can communicate with humans is rooted in biology.

One explanation could be that since dogs live in our homes, and watch people their whole lives, by the time they reach adulthood, they may just have picked up on human behaviours and social cues through observation. Doggy see, doggy do, so to speak. Alternatively, these communication skills could be the product of years of domestication that have led to particular gene selections. 

“It’s not that they’re totally mutually exclusive, right? But if there is that biological basis, the perfect way to study that and ask if that’s the key is through a puppy,” says Bray.

The 375 dogs that were studied were all puppies provided by Canine Companions, a non-profit that trains service dogs. The average age was around eight and a half weeks, which is still in the middle of blissful puppydom—the age where they have primarily spent their time with their littermates and have had limited exposure to humans. Getting them from Canine Companions also meant that the researchers knew each dog’s pedigree and could map how they’re all related to each other.

Twenty three golden retrievers, 98 labrador retrievers and 254 labrador and golden crosses came together to participate in a series of tasks. The puppies also did warm-up, testing, and familiarizations trials.

In one test, the researcher pointed at one of two cups under which some food was placed, whilst saying “puppy, look!” In a variation of the same experiment, the researchers waved a bright yellow toy block that the puppies have never seen before, waved it in their face and placed it next to the jackpot cup.

[Related: Did humans truly domesticate dogs? Canine history is more of a mystery than you think.]

“The idea here is that there’s no intrinsic reason that they should be interested in going to where this block is, but the fact that we’ve now shown it to them and presented it in the social context…are they interpreting it as a social cue?,” says Bray. “And we find they do.”

The puppies went through 12 trials for each task to see how many times they would get the treat hidden under the cup. To control for that impeccable sense of smell, the researchers taped a piece of kibble to the inside of each cup. That way, the puppies’ noses would not be responsible for leading them to the right cup. 

Not only did the little ones find the kibble around 70 percent of the time, their performance didn’t improve over the 12 trials. That might sound like a bad thing, but it’s actually good: it means the puppies were able to find the kibble by virtue of an innate ability, not learning a new skill.

The next two tasks revolved around understanding how much eye contact the puppies could maintain. 

“In adult dogs, this is something kind of special that they do,” says Bray. “The adult dog and adult human look at each other and make a bunch of eye contact that leads to oxytocin release, it’s this special thing.” 

To carry out these human-interest tasks, the researchers recited the 30 second baby talk speech to the puppies to see how long they would maintain eye contact. And while human faces only piqued the puppers curiosity for around six seconds on average, the result was statistically significant.

Bray found that across the tasks more than 40 percent of the variation could be explained by genetics. “Heritability is a measure of how much of that variation is explained by the genetics, which we can calculate because we know their relatedness,” she says. “They are kind of entering the world biologically prepared for something that has been selected for, either purposely or not, over the course of domestication.”

Bray and her colleagues intend to conduct a follow-up study with adults from the same population and analyze genetic data to see if they can pinpoint which dogs would excel at communication, making them ideal service animals. 

Author: Nikita Amir
This post originally appeared on Science – Popular Science

Dementia care: Tips to communicate more effectively with a person with Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer’s Association is a dedicated dementia charity that provide support for people who have dementia and for the people looking after them. During the early and middle stages of the progressive disease, it will be beneficial to learn as much as you can about the condition. Those with dementia may struggle to find the right word, which can make conversations difficult. This may be compounded by them repeating themselves and not following what you’re saying.
“Continuing to communicate with a person is very important as they may become isolated if they start to lose confidence and avoid talking to others,” said the Alzheimer’s Association.

When a person is experiencing dementia, you can expect them to:

  • Lose the thread of a conversation
  • Forgot words or confuse words with another, such as book instead of magazine
  • Talking for an extended period of time or repeat the same things
  • Interrupting people
  • Not responding when someone talks to them
  • Problems with expressing how they’re feeling

When in a group setting, it’s advisable to “make sure the person is included in conversations”.

“Give them time to speak and try not to talk on their behalf. Ask others to communicate directly with the person too,” the charity suggested.

READ MORE: AstraZeneca Covid vaccine: Are children at risk of blood clots as child jabs trial halted?

Amidst conversation, maintain eye contact – as long as there’s no cultural reason not to.

In addition, sit at the same level as the person with dementia so that they don’t feel intimidated – and don’t stand too close.

Traditionally, conversationalists will ask open-ended questions to encourage talking, but closed questions may fare better when talking to a person with dementia.

Asking questions, such as “what do you want to do today” may be harder to process; instead, try giving a short list of options.

“Use the person’s non-verbal communication to understand how they’re feeling or if they are trying to communicate,” said the charity.

Sometimes a person with dementia may not be able to understand the words you’re using.

However, this shouldn’t discourage you from talking to them, as they might find it reassuring when you make the effort to communicate.

Furthermore, positive body language such as smiling, touching the person’s hand and facial expressions, can improve communication between you both.

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