If you’re someone who owns a dog or have interacted with some who owns one you would probably have had the feeling that canines do understood what is told to them. Now, a new research supports the claim that the man’s best friend actually does understand humans a lot better than previously thought.
The new study is by researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, and it was published in the journal Science. A total of 13 family dogs were recruited during the research. All of the dogs were living with their owners. The dogs were also trained for sitting in an fMRI scanner without having to go to sleep. Border collies and golden retrievers made up most of the group. Attila Andics, the lead researcher of the study, and his colleagues said that all of the dogs were free to leave whenever they choose. None of them were restrained inside the fMRI scanner in order to measure their brain activity.
The voice of the trainer’s was recorded with them saying specific phrases in different ways. Hungarian expressions used by all of the test dog owners in order to praise them were said by the trainers in one of the recording in a manner (vocal intonation) that was commonly used to praise the four-legged animals. A whole set of ‘neutral’ words were also recorded, such as conjunctions that didn’t need to have any specific meaning. The phrases and the way they were said were also changed. This means that phrases used for praising were also said in a tone that was neutral and vice versa.
Once the recordings were complete, the brain waves of the dogs were observed by researchers while different recordings were being played. The study found out that the words and the tone they were being said in were separately processed in different parts of the dog’s brain. Familiar words for praise were processed by the left hemisphere, which is also the location that is used by humans for language processing. This happened regardless of the tone being used.
The tone of the phrases was processed by the right hemisphere of the dog’s brain which is also similar to the part of the brain humans use to process tones as well.
According to Andics, “It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match. 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.”
While the current results are unable to prove whether or not the exact meaning of very familiar word is understood by dogs, it does show that these animals are able to notice the difference between words they have and haven’t heard before. The results also show that dogs are able to link positive outcomes with familiar words of praise. The main observation from the current study is that dogs, through the left hemisphere, can notice the difference between meaningless and meaningful words they hear.
The lead researcher of the study went on to add that similar results might be observed in horses, cats, and other domestic animals, if they happen to live with humans.
While more research can lead to further interesting results the current study does provide more proof to humans who always knew their pets could understand them.