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Two-Item Sentence Comprehension by a Dog (Canis familiaris)
Published: Wednesday, February 01, 2012
Author: Daniela Ramos et al.

by Daniela Ramos, Cesar Ades

Syntax use by non-human animals remains a controversial issue. We present here evidence that a dog may respond to verbal requests composed of two independent terms, one referring to an object and the other to an action to be performed relative to the object. A female mongrel dog, Sofia, was initially trained to respond to action (point and fetch) and object (ball, key, stick, bottle and bear) terms which were then presented as simultaneous, combinatorial requests (e.g. ball fetch, stick point). Sofia successfully responded to object-action requests presented as single sentences, and was able to flexibly generalize her performance across different contexts. These results provide empirical evidence that dogs are able to extract the information contained in complex messages and to integrate it in directed performance, an ability which is shared with other linguistically trained animals and may represent a forerunner of syntactic functioning.
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