This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dogs Are People Too, Revisited

A little over a year ago I wrote about our new "fur baby" Larry, whom we adopted from Coastal German Shepherd Rescue. He is truly a cherished member of the family, and I still find it hard when I run across people who think of dogs (and other animals) as just pieces of property with no feelings or emotions. Research that I discussed last year focused on the fact that dogs (and certainly other animals such as chimpanzees and gorillas) experience hormonal responses of bonding that are similar to what happens among humans. New research just published in Science has concluded that dogs are able to understand more than most people thought they could. This was widely covered in the media, but I will link to the NPR story:
"Dogs process both what we say and how we say it in a way which is amazingly similar to how human brains do," says Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary.

When dogs hear speech, he explains, they seem to separate the meaning of words from the intonation, and each aspect of speech is analyzed independently. The left hemisphere of the brain processes meaning, while intonation is analyzed in the right hemisphere.
In other words, even though dogs can't speak, they do process human language in a way that goes beyond learning behavioral commands ("training"). In a tightly controlled experiment conducted with each dog trained to lie still in a scanner, researchers discovered that dogs responded not just to words, and not just to intonation, but to both.
The reward pathway in the dogs' brains lit up when they heard both praising words and an approving intonation — but not when they heard random words spoken in a praising tone or praise words spoken in a flat tone...
The research leads to the conclusion that dogs are even more like humans than we previously thought. And, from a demographic perspective, this shouldn't be surprising. After all, dogs and all other mammals have similar patterns of birth and death and age structures as do humans. Different lifespans mean that demographic events occur at different times, but just as with humans, the highest risk of death for dogs is right after birth. Then they go through their healthy adolescence leading to reproduction. Then, as they age, they become susceptible to non-communicable disease, just as we humans do. As all dog lovers know, the hardest part is, indeed, the shorter lifespan. 

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