Dogs Can Understand Human Tones and Meaning of Words!
30 August, 2016

Scientists have found evidence to support what many of us dog owners have already believed. And, that is how our dogs do understand what we are saying!  Researchers in Hungary found that dogs process words almost exactly as we humans do.

Our dogs’ process words only if they were positive and meaningful!

Researchers in Hungary scanned the brains of dogs as they were listening to their trainer speaking to determine which parts of the brain they were using.  They found that dogs processed words with the left hemisphere, while intonation was processed with the right hemisphere, just like we do.  And the dogs only registered that they were being praised if the words and intonation were positive; meaningless words spoken in an encouraging voice, or meaningful words in a neutral tone, didn’t have the same effect.

Dogs and humans rely and have similar communication networks

The results reveal important that it is very likely both humans and dogs may have relied on similar networks that were already in place before language evolved, and later adapted to process speech. Praise tends to be given to our dogs in a higher varying pitch than just speaking to our dogs.  We love to praise our dogs and the focus of the study was to determine if our dogs find our words meaningful.

The real insight in the study is the dogs only heard the praise and did not see their owner

He says most dog owners have experimented with trying to “trick” their dogs by saying nonsense words in a cheerful, happy tone of voice. “I think the big difference here is that they only heard us, they didn’t see us,” says Andics, because the dogs were inside the machine. “Here, the only information they had was the speech signal. What we saw is that for praise to be processed as a reward, when there is no other supporting information, both word meaning and intonation have to fit.”

Dogs processed certain words and knew words like ‘however’ didn’t mean anything

While the MRI machine captured their brain activity, the dogs were exposed to recordings of their trainer speaking in different combinations of words and intonation, in both praising and neutral ways. For example, trainers said words like “super” or “however” in a high-pitched, cheery voice, as well as a neutral tone. The results reveal that, regardless of intonation, dogs process vocabulary, recognizing distinct words. What’s more, they do so in a way similar to humans, using the left hemisphere of the brain.

Dogs being domesticated for years helped them become more attentive than other animals.

While other species probably also have the mental ability to understand language like dogs do, their lack of interest in human speech makes it difficult to test, according to the study.  Dogs, on the other hand, have socialized with humans for thousands of years, meaning they are more attentive to what people say to them and how.

The study was published in the journal Science.  Photo credit: ENIKŐ KUBINYI

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