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Dogs Actually Understand What We Say, and How We Say It

Dog sitting between two people

Let’s be honest, we all talk to our pups, and most people really believe that they can understand what is being said to them. Well now, a new study has proven this argument correct.

Results from the study were written in the journal Science by the lead researcher Dr. Attila Andics and colleagues from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.

The scientists trained 13 dogs to lie motionless in an fMRI scanner, in order to monitor how they process human speech while they listened to recordings of their trainers saying various praise or neutral words.

The results revealed that dogs process the meaning of words with the left hemisphere of their brain and the tone with the right, which mirrors the way humans process speech. The study also showed that dogs only feel a sense of reward when both the words and tone used indicate praise. This means that if an owner says ‘well done’ or ‘good boy’ to their dog in a monotone, unenthusiastic way, the dog will know that it isn’t really being praised. On the flip side, if you’re giggling while telling your dog ‘no’ or ‘stop’, it’s unlikely they will follow your orders.

“The results were very exciting and very surprising.” said Andics.

“It turned out that when we praise a dog it activates the reward centre of their brain but only if word meaning and intonation are praising,”

“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.”

“Using words may be a human invention but now we see that the neural connections used to process them are not uniquely human."