Scientists: Our Dogs Understand What We’re Saying
Science| | By Robin Milling
Be careful what you say around your pooch because they literally are hanging on our every word.
A new study, the first of its kind, claims to have unlocked the mystery of how a dog’s brain processes speech and understands language. Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary in the department of ethology discovered that we were on the right track about our pets who can tell the difference between “sit” and “fetch” and not just through our hand commands that accompany them.
To come to these results, researchers taught 13 canines of different breeds to lie motionless in an MRI scanner – a miraculous feat for any species let alone a dog – so their brains could be monitored while listening to their trainer’s recordings saying various phrases, such as “Well done,” “clever,” and “good boy.” The phrases were said in either a warm and fuzzy way or in an angry and condescending tone.
The study of their brain revealed that dogs are just like us, using the left hemisphere of their brain to process the meaning of words, and their right side to work out the intonation. So it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. For instance if you say “good girl” in a monotone voice your dog is not being fooled. They know it’s not really being rewarded, except maybe for that treat waiting in the wings.
If you ever wondered how Fifi responds to things like being fed food under the table, being petted, or listening to human music, the team also found that praise activated a dog’s reward center – the brain region which responds to all sorts of pleasurable stimuli. Reportedly, this only works when words of praise are said in a pleasing intonation.
Dr. Attila Andics, the lead researcher of the study explained their findings to Mother Jones.
“So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant. Again, this is very similar to what human brains do,” said Andics.
We all love to talk to our dogs especially after a hard day at the office. So when your dog cocks his head to one side, gives you a smile, or its’ ears perk up, at least now we know they’re truly listening.
Watch a video from the Family Dog Project explaining the findings of the study.