If You Give a Dog a Bone

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Ariana Wehr

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Dog Neurology: Does “Man’s Best Friend” Really Understand Us?

Some people are unsure whether or not dogs understand their humans, while others are firm believers.

I think that my dogs do understand me, as well as dogs that are not my own. I can tell they understand me because they get really excited and they wag their tails super fast when I speak with a high pitched voice.

Dogs use the left side of their brains for processing words and the right side of their brains to understand tone and pitch. Words said in a neutral way do not have the same effect as the same words communicated in an encouraging tone.

Dogs respond with excitement when we use an enthusiastic, high-pitched voice. This tone is perfect for initiating play or giving commands that are active, such as training the “sit” command.

Chemistry teacher Mr. Renehan trained dogs before he worked here at LRHS. He commented, “Generally speaking, dogs do better with corrections from males since they have deeper voices and respond more positively to females since they are higher pitched.”

Sophomore Ariana Wehr's dog, Gunner, is happy to meet you. Photo courtesy of Ariana Wehr.

Junior Alina Lundquist says, “I think my dogs do understand me. I talk to my dogs with a higher pitched voice when they are good, and they seem to get excited.”

Mr. Renehan states that if his dogs do something bad, he lowers his tone, and his dogs understand the tone change and can sense that they are in trouble.

Not only do dogs know how to react to tone change, dogs also cause physiological changes in our bodies that encourage us to love them even more. The hormone oxytocin is involved with feelings of love and affection for others, which is the same hormone that is found in humans. When dogs stare into our eyes, oxytocin levels increase in man and his best friend.

In a study published May 30 in the journal Animal Cognition, researchers found that a dog was more likely to approach someone who was crying than someone who was humming or talking. The dogs responded to their weeping owners with submissive behaviors.

“The humming was designed to be a relatively novel behavior, which might be likely to pique the dogs’ curiosity,” mentions study researcher and psychologist Deborah Custance to livescience.com.

The humming was thought to attract the dog’s interest more than crying, but the opposite occurred.

Custance expands: “The fact that the dogs differentiated between crying and humming indicates that their response to crying was not purely driven by curiosity. Rather, the crying carried greater emotional meaning for the dogs and provoked a stronger overall response than either humming or talking.”

Sophomore Jezne Sosa adds, “My dog cuddles with me when I’m in a bad mood. I think he really does understand me.”

When asked if he thought dogs understand their owners, Mr. Renehan said, “I would have to say yes. Most of it is rooted to the pitch of their voices, but I think they also understand posture and more than likely the pheromones people give off during their sadness.”

Dogs are loving companions and will do anything for their owners. They know when you are sick, feeling down, and are sometimes just there to steal food off your plate. They are truly “man’s best friend.”

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