If you've spent any amount of time on social media or YouTube during the past three or so years, you've probably seen this video. It's hilarious; the narrator talks to his dog while perfectly filling in the dog's thoughts, too. And it seems to fit how we think about our dogs. But did you know that talking to your dog, like the narrator does here, is actually a sign of intelligence?
Have you ever had full-on conversations with your dog? Do you ask your dog questions on a regular basis? You might only do this in the safety of your own home when you know no one's around to hear you, but we guarantee that you're not the only one to talk with your dog.
That's right. When you talk with your dog, you're actually demonstrating the fact that you're intelligent. When we talk to our pets, we're doing a process called anthropomorphising. That big word translates to the fact that we're giving humanlike tendencies to our pets.
But anthropomorphising is nothing to laugh about. According to Nicholas Epley, behavioral science professor at the University of Chicago, anthropomorphising is “a natural byproduct of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet." Basically, humans are the only creatures capable of anthropomophising.
Epley clarified why anthropomorphising is so significant. “We often name objects like cars, instruments, boats, and cameras — all items that we develop special relationships with and consider extensions of our own identities. But it goes beyond naming: We think our cat is acting 'sassy'; that the stock market is 'angry' or 'working to recover'; and we ask our car 'why it won't turn on' and call it a 'rickety old man' when it starts to stall."
In fact, Epley stated that "recognising the mind of another human being involves the same psychological processes as recognising a mind in other animals, a god, or even a gadget. It is a reflection of our brain’s greatest ability rather than a sign of our stupidity." So don't feel embarrassed by the fact that you talk to your dog.
Basically, when you talk with your dog, you're exercising your creativity and intelligence. In assigning a personality to your pet, you're making things up, sure, but you're also creating a situation that allows you to bond more closely with your pet. "This is just the byproduct of having an active, intelligent social cognition — of having a brain that is programmed to see and perceive minds," said Epley.
Think that what you're saying to your dog goes in one ear and out the other? Not necessarily. According to research, dogs really do understand the meanings of words. This goes beyond simply picking up on intonation; dogs learn to recognize the actual words being spoken.
The fact that dogs can learn to recognize words makes them awesome partners for us. According to Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, "Humans seem to be the only species which uses words and intonation for communicating emotions, feelings, inner states," he says. "To find that dogs have a very similar neural mechanism to tell apart meaningful words from meaningless sound sequences is, I think, really amazing."
Scientists are working to further develop dogs' ability to understand and communicate with humans. Researchers are trying to create ways to allow dogs to better and more clearly communicate with humans through technology that helps dogs to "talk." This animal-computer interaction technology could incorporate buttons or levers a dog can push to send a text to their owner, alerting the owner about a situation such as a tornado siren that is going off.
The science is mainly focused on developing technology that will improve the ways that service dogs can perform. It's important to remember that dogs talk to us all the time, using body language and vocal cues. We just don't always understand that language.
Dogs are incredible creatures capable of understanding our words, even though we speak a language that is foreign to them. So the next time that you're talking to your dog, don't worry. You're not crazy. You're just smart, and your dog likely understands you much more than you think.