A team of Hungarian scientists discovered recently that dogs can process words and how we say them similar to the way humans do.


The scientists, from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, had 13 willing family dogs lie conscious and still while undergoing an MRI, and while listening to commands from their owners, and measured their brain activities. The humans would speak words of praise in both neutral and praising tones, along with neutral words in both tones as well. Words spoken, for example, were “well done” and “as if” in Hungarian, and the dogs responded to the meaningful words.

“There’s no acoustic reason for this difference,” says study leader Attila Andics. “It shows that these words have meaning to dogs.”

The results revealed that dogs can recognize individual words in their left brain hemispheres, just as humans can. Also like humans, they also processed intonation with the right hemispheres of their brains. Of course the biggest response in the dogs’ brains’ reward centers came from praise words said in a praising tone.

“This shows… that dogs not only separate what we say from how we say it,” explains Andics, “but also that they can combine the two for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant.”

The finding “doesn’t mean that dogs understand everything we say,” clarifies Julie Hecht, who studies canine behavior and cognition at City University of New York, who was not involved in the study. “But our words and intonations are not meaningless to dogs.”

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