Can dogs really understand human language?

February 6, 2017

Have you ever wondered if your dog really understands what you’re saying? Sure, your pup is trained to understand commands, but is your furry friend processing more than one word commands? Can they understand more of what you have to say, and how you say it?

Researchers in Hungary have found evidence to support the belief that dogs really do understand some of what we’re saying. The scientists scanned the brains of dogs using a functional MRI technique while their trainers spoke to them in order to determine exactly which part of the brain the dogs were using during this time.

Photo source: CBC News

What did they find?

It would appear that, just like humans, dogs process words with the left hemisphere of the brain, and process intonation with the right hemisphere. They also experimented with praise in order to determine if the words being spoken affect the dog’s understanding of what is happening. They found that the dogs registered that they were being praised only when both the words and intonation were in fact positive. When the researchers spoke to the dogs using meaningless words in an encouraging voice, or when they spoke words of praise in a neutral tone, the words didn’t have the same effect on the dogs.

We know, pretty wild stuff.

The lead researcher in the project, Attila Andics, was quoted in a CBC article saying, “dog brains care about both what we say and how we say it. Praise can work as a reward only if both word meaning and intonation match.”

What does all of this suggest?

According to Andics, what appears to set humans apart from the rest of the species on Earth is the invention of words, and the capacity to process words previously thought to be uniquely human is shared with other species, including our furry friends.

Photo source: CBC News

It seems that, based on the research, other species may have the potential to understand human language as well. However, because dogs have become socialized with humans unlike other species, they’re actually paying attention, meaning they’re an easy species for scientists to test, and they’re listening to what humans say to them and how they say it.

What are your thoughts on this study? Do you think your pup can really understand what you’re saying to them? Tell us about it in the comments section below or on our Facebook page!



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