Dogs really do understand what we are saying to them

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Reward centers of their brains lit up the most in the scanner when praising words were met with a praising tone, which makes sense.

While the study does conveniently point to the theory that dogs have simply evolved alongside humans to better understand them the authors point out that this is extremely unlikely.

You can get a dog stoked about anything, even going to the vet, if you say it like you’re really excited about it. When the trainers’ words and voice inflection were positive, the dogs registered that they were being praised.

The study, which will be published Thursday in the journal of Science, studies “whether and how dog brains segregate and integrate lexical and intonational information”, or how dogs respond to the tone and language that humans use in their interactions with them.

While dogs process words in much the same way as humans do, researchers say we’re unique in our ability to use them. The rest hemisphere of their brain processes meaning, while analysis of intonation is in process in the right hemisphere.

Mr Andics said the dogs involved in the study were awake during the tests.

The team, led by Attila Andics, said that they trained 13 dogs to lie motionless inside a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine for the objective of scanning their brains.

The two sets of words were said in both praising and neutral tones.

Later, dogs were given recorded word combinations to listen to.

“It is mainly the left hemisphere’s job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere’s job to process intonation”.

But the new findings mean dogs are more like humans than was previously known.

“It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match”, Dr Andics said.

While other species probably also have the mental ability to understand language like dogs, their lack of interest in human speech makes it hard to test, says Andics. Similarly, to understand what someone is trying to say, people have to pay attention to both their words and their intonation.

To reach their findings the study scientists recruited 13 dogs of varying breeds from 1 to 12 years old. “It shows that these words have meaning to dogs”.

They were also unrestrained and happy during the experiments.