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A new study suggests dogs can understand their owners’ language.

Using MRI scanner on dogs, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does.

Emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, also prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why dogs are attuned to human emotions.

The work is published in the journal Current Biology.

Lead author Attila Andics, from the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said: “We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information.”

Eleven pet dogs took part in the study; training them took some time.

“We used positive reinforcement strategies – lots of praise,” said Dr. Attila Andics.

“There were 12 sessions of preparatory training, then seven sessions in the scanner room, then these dogs were able to lie motionless for as long as eight minutes. Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.”

For comparison, the team looked at the brains of 22 human volunteers in the same MRI scanners.

The scientists played the people and pooches 200 different sounds, ranging from environmental noises, such as car sounds and whistles, to human sounds (but not words) and dog vocalizations.

Using MRI scanner on dogs, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does

Using MRI scanner on dogs, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does

The researchers found that a similar region – the temporal pole, which is the most anterior part of the temporal lobe – was activated when both the animals and people heard human voices.

“We do know there are voice areas in humans, areas that respond more strongly to human sounds that any other types of sounds,” Dr. Attila Andics explained.

“The location [of the activity] in the dog brain is very similar to where we found it in the human brain. The fact that we found these areas exist at all in the dog brain at all is a surprise – it is the first time we have seen this in a non-primate.”

Emotional sounds, such as crying and laughter also had a similar pattern of activity, with an area near the primary auditory cortex lighting up in dogs and humans.

Likewise, emotionally charged dog vocalizations – such as whimpering or angry barking – also caused a similar reaction in all volunteers,

Dr. Attila Andics said: “We know very well that dogs are very good at tuning into the feelings of their owners, and we know a good dog owner can detect emotional changes in his dog – but we now begin to understand why this can be.”

However, while the dogs responded to the human voice, their reactions were far stronger when it came to canine sounds.

They also seemed less able to distinguish between environmental sounds and vocal noises compared with humans.

About half of the whole auditory cortex lit up in dogs when listening to these noises, compared with 3% of the same area in humans.

Dr. Attila Andics said this would be the focus of his next set of experiments.

A new study suggests that dogs were domesticated in Europe.

The scientists have long argued over the precise timing and location for their emergence.

The new research, based on a genetic analysis of ancient and modern dog and wolf samples, points to a European origin at least 18,000 years ago.

Olaf Thalmann and colleagues report the investigation in Science magazine.

It adds a further layer of complexity to the story.

Earlier DNA studies have suggested the modern pooch – in all its shapes and sizes – could track its beginnings back to wolves that attached themselves to human societies in the Middle East or perhaps in East Asia as recently as 15,000 years ago.

The problem with these claims is that palaeontologists have found fossils of distinctly dog-looking animals that are 30,000 years old or more.

Dr. Olaf Thalmann, from Finland’s University of Turku, and his team, have had another go at trying to sort through the conflicting DNA evidence.

The new research, based on a genetic analysis of ancient and modern dog and wolf samples, points to a European origin at least 18,000 years ago

The new research, based on a genetic analysis of ancient and modern dog and wolf samples, points to a European origin at least 18,000 years ago

They compared genetic sequences from a wide range of ancient animals – both dogs and wolves – with material taken from living canines – again, from both dogs and wolves.

This analysis reveals modern dogs to be most closely related to ancient European wolves or dogs – not to any of the wolf groups from outside Europe, nor even to modern European wolves (suggesting the link is with old European wolves that are now extinct). And because the dog remains used in the research are dated to be more than 18,000 years old, it indicates a timing for domestication that is much older than some researchers have previously argued.

If correct, it means dogs started to diverge from wolf populations when humans had yet to settle into fixed, agricultural communities and were still hunting and gathering.

It is possible there were wolves that would follow these hunters, may be at a distance at first, living off the scraps and discards from the humans’ big-game kills such as mammoth, before eventually being incorporated into the human groups as they became less wary.

“You can see how wolves benefitted from living near humans because they got these carcases, but humans too would have benefitted,” said Dr. Olaf Thalmann.

The latest study is unlikely to be the last word on the subject, however.

Using DNA – and the subtle changes it undergoes over time – to examine animal origins and relationships is a very powerful tool, but far from fool-proof.

One of the problems scientists have is that dog populations have become very mixed over time, as a result of being moved around by their human owners. This complicates the genetic signal.

The difficulty is further amplified by the fact that some dogs have at times also clearly back-bred with wild wolves. Teasing all this apart is very difficult.

A resolution will require more sampling and more analysis, particularly of the core, or nuclear, DNA of ancient animals.

This and many of the previous studies have relied on so-called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), a small sub-packet of genetic material in cells that, although incredibly useful, does not represent the fullest information possible.

The larger nuclear DNA material could provide the more compelling answers but it is much more difficult to retrieve, especially in very old bones or fossils. A number of research groups around the world are trying, though.

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According to the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, Americans spend $300 million on costumes for their pets every Halloween.

On last night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, creative dog groomer Catherine Opson showed off several dogs that were painted and groomed in interesting ways for Halloween. The five different dog designs shown included a zombie, a leopard, a koi pond, Sesame Street, and The Simpsons.

On last night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, creative dog groomer Catherine Opson showed off several dogs that were painted and groomed in interesting ways for Halloween

On last night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, creative dog groomer Catherine Opson showed off several dogs that were painted and groomed in interesting ways for Halloween

However, the most amazing design was likely The Simpsons, which were actually displayed on two dogs. Jimmy Kimmel quipped they were the only dogs “to be sued by FOX for copyright infringement.”

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