Dogs DO Understand What We Say!When you say, "Good boy!" or "Come get your dinner!" to your dog, he really does understand you. Hungarian researchers have proven scientifically what every dog owner already knows: pups understand what we say to them. To be clear, it's not as if dogs have a full vocabulary, but they are able to comprehend some of what their humans say.
The study: Led by Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, the team scanned the brains of dogs as they were listening to a trainer speak to them to determine which parts of their brains they were using, reports The Associated Press. The dogs were not restrained and all participated willingly.
The results: Just like humans do, the dogs used both sides of their brain to understand speech. They processed words with the left hemisphere and used the right hemisphere to process intonation.
That's important. Dogs registered praise based not only on what was said, but also how it was said. And it goes even further. When meaningless words were said in an encouraging, positive voice or meaningful words were spoken in a neutral voice, the dogs didn't have the same understanding.
"Dog brains care about both what we say and how we say it," Andics told AP. "Praise can work as a reward only if both word meaning and intonation match."
What does this mean? The mental ability to process language evolved earlier than has been previously thought. What sets humans apart from dogs--and other species--is the invention of words and our ability to speak them.
"The neural capacities to process words that were thought by many to be uniquely human are actually shared with other species," Andics explained to AP. "This suggests that the big change that made humans able to start using words was not a big change in neural capacity."
Does this mean other species can understand human speech? Probably. The catch is that other species aren't interested in human speech and have not been socialized with humans, making it difficult to test, says Andics.
The study findings were published in the journal Science.