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  • Hello. This is 6 Minute English from

  • BBC Learning English. I'm Sam.

  • And I'm Neil. Sam, do you remember

  • an old children's television

  • show called 'Lassie'?

  • Yes, I grew up watching the

  • adventures of schoolboy, Timmy,

  • and his pet dog, a collie named

  • Lassie. Whenever Timmy got lost

  • or into trouble, Lassie sensed

  • danger and came to the rescue.

  • If you believe shows like 'Lassie',

  • pets know when their human owners

  • feel afraid or in danger. But in

  • real life do animals know, or

  • care, about human feelings?

  • Now, Neil, obviously we're not

  • talking about wild animals, right?

  • We're talking about domesticated

  • animals - types of animals which are

  • under human control and have been

  • living closely with people for

  • centuries. They include pets,

  • like cats and dogs, working

  • animals and farm animals,

  • like cows and sheep.

  • So, what about dogs like our friend,

  • Lassie? Do you think they can

  • sense human feelings?

  • It's hard to know what's really

  • going on behind a dog's big,

  • brown eyes. Unlike humans, pets

  • can't talk to say how they're

  • feeling, and this makes it easy

  • for us to misunderstand them.

  • People often anthropomorphize

  • their pets - treat them as if

  • they were human by giving

  • them human characteristics.

  • In cartoons, Micky Mouse can

  • talk and Donald Duck dances and

  • sings, but we know mice and

  • ducks don't really

  • do that in nature.

  • Exactly. But recently, new

  • research has suggested that

  • sometimes pets do respond to

  • their owner's feelings.

  • OK. Well, before we find out

  • more, I have a quiz question

  • for you, Neil. 'Lassie' wasn't

  • the only TV show to feature a

  • boy and his pet companion.

  • A similar show, Skippy, was set

  • in Australia - but what type of

  • animal was the star? Was Skippy:

  • a) a rabbit? b) a frog? or,

  • c) a kangaroo?

  • Well, if Skippy was Australian,

  • I'll guess he's c) a kangaroo.

  • OK, I'll reveal the answer later in

  • the programme. Now,

  • Neil, earlier you

  • mentioned that because animals

  • can't speak, it's difficult to know

  • their feelings about us.

  • Difficult, yes ... but not

  • impossible. Recently, anthrozoologist,

  • Dr Karen Hiestand, designed an

  • experiment to test whether

  • our pets really do care about us.

  • She filmed pet owners pretending

  • to be hurt and observed the

  • reactions of their dogs and cats.

  • Here's Adrian Washbourne, producer

  • for BBC World Service programme,

  • Health Check, pretending to

  • hurt his leg at home, where he

  • lives with his two pets,

  • a cat and a dog.

  • And now I'm going to fake an

  • injury, and we'll see how

  • they respond. Ouch! Ow!

  • Well, the tail wagging has

  • got a bit more, there's a bit

  • of a yawn. I don't think they

  • were particularly sensitive or

  • bothered that I was squealing

  • around the floor in agony,

  • holding my leg up in the air,

  • trying to feign an injury.

  • Meanwhile the cat, who's

  • on the windowsill, is

  • looking at me with wide eyes.

  • Adrian didn't really hurt his

  • leg - he feigned, or pretended,

  • to be hurt. He pretended to be

  • in agony - extreme physical

  • pain, to see what his

  • pets would do.

  • Adrian's dog wagged his tail

  • and gave a yawn. The cat,

  • meanwhile, just looked at

  • him with wide eyes...

  • Little evidence of pets

  • showing care or concern there,

  • you might think. But,

  • according to Dr Hiestand,

  • the animals' behaviour makes

  • perfect sense when you

  • remember where they came

  • from. Dogs are descended

  • from ancient breeds of

  • wolves - very social animals

  • who live together in packs,

  • so it makes sense that a dog

  • would sniff and come closer

  • to investigate what

  • was happening.

  • Cats, on the other hand,

  • are solitary creatures,

  • descended from wild cats who

  • lived and hunted alone.

  • Dr Hiestand thinks this explains

  • the reaction of Adrian's cat,

  • as she told BBC World Service

  • programme, Health Check.

  • What we're seeing typically

  • is cats staying much more still...

  • that they're looking and looking

  • at their owner, so they're

  • definitely paying their owner

  • an awful lot of attention when

  • they're displaying a negative

  • distress emotion, comparing to

  • during the control procedure

  • where they're just doing cat

  • thingswalking around,

  • grooming... that kind of thing.

  • The experiment showed the

  • different responses of cats

  • and dogs to human distress -

  • feelings of worry, sadness or pain.

  • In the experiment, dogs were

  • visibly concerned, while cats

  • simply paid more attention to

  • what was going on. Some cats

  • did nothing except carry on

  • grooming - cleaning themselves

  • using their tongue and paws.

  • The experiment confirms the idea

  • we have of cats being

  • cold and antisocial.

  • And of dogs being our best

  • friend. But according to

  • Dr Hiestand’s findings, cats

  • also feel human distress - they

  • just show it in a different way.

  • Well, if the experiment

  • included Lassie, he'd probably

  • phone the emergency services,

  • then make Adrian a cup of tea!

  • Ha! And what about, Skippy?

  • Ah yes, in my quiz question

  • I asked Neil about the

  • Australian TV star, Skippy.

  • I guessed that he was

  • c) a kangaroo.

  • Which was the correct answer!

  • Over two metres high and able

  • to jump nine metres in a

  • single hop, you'd be in safe

  • hands with Skippy the Kangaroo.

  • Right, let's recap the

  • vocabulary from this programme

  • starting with domesticated - a

  • word to describe animals

  • which are not wild and live

  • under human control.

  • To anthropomorphize means to

  • give animals human qualities