Dogs can actually understand the meaning of some human words, as shown by a study published in the prestigious journal Science.
In a world-first test, academics in Hungary trained thirteen dogs to voluntarily lie in an MRI scanner to observe what took place in their brain when the scientists spoke to them.
They found that dogs’ brains process language similarly to humans, with the right side handling emotion and the left which processes meaning.
It was only when both sides of the brain consented they were hearing praise that the dog was absolutely pleased.
While this was just the dogs’ “word-meaning representation”, it still indicates they had an idea of what message the particular sound of a person’s word was made to convey.
Lead scientist researcher Dr Attila Andics, of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, stated: “During speech processing, there’s a popular distribution of labor in the human brain.
During the brain scans, the scientists spoke words such as “well done” and “good boy” spoken with a praising accent, the similar words in a neutral tone as well as words, which were insignificant to them, such as “however”, in both intonations.
The scans revealed the left brain of the dogs the tended to be activated when they heard words, which were meaningful to them. This didn’t take place when they heard words they didn’t understand. The right hemisphere activated once they heard a praising accent.
However, the reward center of their brains that reacts to pleasurable sensations such as eating nice food, being petted and having sex, was only activated once they heard praising words voiced in a praising accent.
“It reveals that for dogs, a pleasant praise may very well work as a reward; however, it is most effective if both words and intonation match,” Dr Andics stated.
“So dogs apart from telling apart what we say and the way we say it, but they can as well combine the two, for a proper interpretation of what those words actually meant.
“This is quite comparable to what human brains do.”
This seems to contradict the notion that dogs just understand the tone of voice and don’t have an idea of the words true meaning.
While they may respond tentatively to a praising tone with words they don’t understand, or even insults, they are only truly happy once they understand the praise they are getting.
The scientists described their work as a first step towards understanding the way dogs interpret human speech.
A statement regarding the research stated the scientists believed their results may “help to make cooperation and communication between dogs and humans much more efficient”.
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