Do you ever feel like your dog understands you? I mean really understands you? Well, scientists in Hungary published a groundbreaking study that shows dogs understand both the meaning of words and the intonation used to speak them.
My Dog Understands me? How is this possible, you ask?
Well, we already knew dogs respond to the ‘tone’ of human voice, and form associations between certain words and meanings, even often able to match hundreds of objects to names, but these new discoveries could mean dogs are closer to humans than we previously thought. According to researchers, our canine friends process language using the same regions of the brain as people.
Of course, this had already been made clear by studies observing dog behavior, but no one had seen exactly what goes on inside the Canine brain.
To finally form a definitive conclusion, Attila Andics and colleagues at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest gathered together 13 family dog testers, mostly highly intelligent breeds like golden retrievers and border collies, and trained them to sit completely still for approximately seven minutes in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner in order to measure their brain activity. The furry fellows weren’t restrained, and could leave at any time, researchers assured.
A female trainer familiar to the dogs would then speak familiar words of praise and common words in both neutral tones and excitable, happy tones. The goal was to determine how the dogs responded to tone.
Researchers determined the dogs processed familiar words regardless of tone, using the left hemisphere of their brains (like humans). On the other hand, they analyzed the tone/emotion behind the words in the auditory regions of the right hemisphere (again, just like people).
In an e-mail, the study’s co-author acknowledged the brain’s left hemispheres’ response to praise words didn’t prove the dogs were fully understanding meaning, and not simply reacting to familiarity. He also said the dogs hear natural words in daily human conversation as often as they hear praise words. The question may be in whether or not the words are directed toward them.
Finally, scientists saw the ‘reward center’ of the dogs’ brains reacted when they heard positive words were spoken in a positive tone. In other words, it works best when familiar words of praise are used in combination with a pleasant tone of voice!
Researchers determined it is unlikely human selective domestication around 1541 could have had much of an influence in this area. More likely, this resulted as a side effect from other dog traits selected for, such as attention. Bottom line, your dog understands you. He does.
For You Cat People
Scientists reported it’s unlikely our feline friends would be capable of the same comprehension, possibly because cats were not domesticated until thousands of years later.