| How do dogs understand people?|
|Question Date: 2016-09-01|
We teach animals using conditioning.
Operant conditioning is a way to train animals to
do what we want using rewards. We can make them
pay attention to our commands by rewarding things
We can even shape behavior by rewarding
things that are the start of behaviors we want.
Here’s an example. If you hold food out to both
sides of your body, a dog will probably look at
the food. If you say their name in a way that
makes them look at you, then give them a treat,
they will learn to look at you when you say their
name. If you call your dog and offer a treat or
toy, they will probably come to you, and you give
them the treat or toy. Then you can back off on
how often they get a reward other than a “good
dog!.” You can start off just being a few feet
away with a great treat that they will come to
anyway. Over time, you can gradually increase the
distance and things that distract them.
Some people just expect a dog to somehow
understand commands, but it takes patience and
work to train an animal. If you ever call an
animal, then do things they don’t like, they will
learn to avoid you and your calls. If you call and
call, they will learn to ignore your calls.
You may be interested in studying animal
behavior. Here’s an interesting article on operant
Thanks for asking,
A Russian scientist named Ivan Pavlov
gave us one of the first answers to your question.
He had a bunch of dogs, and noticed that, when he
would walk by them after being away for a long
time, the dogs would drool and lick their lips as
if they were just about to eat. Pavlov thought
that the dogs associated, or paired, the idea of
getting food with him walking by. After all, he
was the one that fed them. To test this idea, he
would ring a bell when feeding the dogs. After a
while of doing this, he tried ringing a bell
without giving them food. With just the sound of
the bell, the dogs would drool and get excited for
the food even though there was not food around.
Palov would say that the dogs were
conditioned, or they learned to pair, the
sound of the bell with getting food.
Using conditioning, we can train animals to
understand humans. Typically when training a
dog, for instance, you can pair food with a
behavior that you want. So when you call your
dog’s name and she happens to approach, you can
reinforce that behavior by giving her a treat. If
you repeat the pairing of food with the desired
behavior enough times the animal eventually will
perform the behavior without food. You can even
build really complicated series of behaviors one
step at a time using conditioning. This is how an
animal can come to learn its name and other
Thanks for the great question,
Science magazine has an exciting article about
how dogs understand us. Dogs understand some
of the words we say, and they hear our tone of
voice, which helps them know if we are happy with
them or mad at them. So the best result for
the dog is when we say familiar praise words to
them in a praising voice. Here's a description of
Dogs have been domesticated for many thousands
of years. Humans and dogs have thus had plenty of
time to develop close communication bonds for work
and play. Using brain-scanning techniques, Andics
et al. investigated how dogs process human speech.
The left brain hemisphere in dogs responds more
strongly to praise words, and a right auditory
brain region distinguishes intonation. Reward
regions only light up if both the word and the
intonation are consistent with praise. Hence,
the subtlety of dog-human communication has
become hardwired in the absence of language.
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