Researchers Reveal Dogs Understand Better Than People

Dogs have long been known as man`s best friend: loyal companions that simply adore their owners.  They are indeed loving and affectionate- something can be determined from their behavior- but what about communication? If you are a dog lover and owner, you have probably asked yourself how much does your pet really understand you, haven’t you?

Researchers Reveal Dogs Understand Better Than People

In order to see how dogs, understand communication, Attila Andics, the study’s lead scientist, and her colleagues at ELU did a neural activity test. They recruited 13 family dogs, consisting of border collies, golden retrievers, German shepherds, and Chinese crested dogs.

The team used an fMRI machine to measure brain activity, a neuroimaging unit which measures brain activity through blood flow. These devices are often used in hospitals which examine the brain.

The team of researchers determined that the dogs needed to remain stationary in the machine for at least seven minutes in order to obtain the correct measurements.  Needless to say, they didn’t sit still for that long, particularly in some tube among strangers.  So, the researchers brought in trainers who taught them to remain stationary in the machine.

When positioned in the machine, the researchers played a recording of their trainers` voices.  The recording included various combinations of both intonation and vocabulary words, including speech that was both neutral and adulatory (e.g. exciting or high-pitched).

Most importantly, the trainers combined praise words and neutral words with a praising tone or neutral tone.  For instance, trainers said praise words with a praising tone and a neutral tone; likewise, they verbalized neutral words with a neutral tone and a praising tone. The point of this experiment was to see whether or not they understood the meaning.

The Results

Words are invented by humans and are rarely discovered among other species.  Some species, such as the bottlenose dolphin, make certain noises which function as words, for instance. But, the production of words is generally defined and understood solely by humans.

This doesn’t mean that animals cannot understand what we say, though.  Turns out that dogs are quite capable of doing so! More importantly, turns out that dogs process speech in the same way as people do.  According to tone of the researchers, “The human brain not only separately analyzes what we say and how we say it, but also integrates the two types of information, to arrive at a unified meaning. Our findings suggest that dogs can also do all that, and they use very similar mechanisms.”

This scientist is referring to the discovery that the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which are responsible for speech functions, work the same way in both humans and dogs.  Amazingly, it wasn’t until this research that we found that dogs do the same thing as we do, processes words with the help of the left hemisphere and (i.e. what the word means) and processing intonation with the help of the right hemisphere.

Bottom line is this experiment proves that dogs understand human communication unusually well.   In other words, it means that dogs will often react to our speech not only what is said, but how it is said.