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Turns Out, Dogs Know What We Say—And How We Say It

See! Our dogs really are the only ones who truly understand us.

When you’re talking to your dog and she cocks her head while listening closely, have you ever stopped to wonder what she’s thinking?

A new study suggests that pups not only understand what we’re saying, they process how we’re delivering the message. The words and the intonation then form their perception—very similar to how they do for us.

dogs photo
Photo by Gamma Man

To learn more about this, researchers studied 13 dogs. Four breeds were chosen: Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Chinese Cresteds and German Shepherds. They put each of them in an MRI, and then analyzed brain activity as they listened to recordings of their trainer’s voice.

“The recordings consisted of four combinations of vocabulary and intonation: praising words (‘good boy’) with praising intonation, praising words with neutral intonation, neutral words (‘however’) with praising intonation, and neutral words with neutral intonation,” Real Simple reports.

Attila Andics, the lead researcher of the study, said “We humans also love talking to dogs all the time. We praise them, call them, but quite little is known about what dogs get out of all of this, of how dogs interpret our words. Do they process the tone of our words only or do they process the words as well?”

dogs photo
Photo by chifei

The results showed that the dogs process speech very much as we do. They process words with the left hemisphere of their brains like we do, and process the intonation in the right hemisphere.

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

dogs photo
Photo by Eddie~S

One dog expert from the City University of New York gave a good description of the study’s finding in Science. The results don’t indicate that dogs understand every word we say, but it does mean “our words and intonations are not meaningless to dogs.”

Photo by David Locke1