We’ve all been there after a long day of work, venting to our dogs about the crazy things Sharon said at lunch today and the terrible decisions our boss made in a meeting, but many of us underestimate what our dogs understand from our daily conversations with them. According to a recent study done by scientists at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, dogs use the same parts of the brain as humans when decrypting the verbal messages we speak to them. Brain scans of various dogs demonstrated that, like humans, dogs use the left side of their brain to decode what their owners mean when talking directly to them.
Not only do dogs use the same parts of the brain to understand, but they also pick up on the tone of voice being used by their owner when speaking to them. It was discovered during the process that dogs perceived praise better when spoken to in a nicer tone of voice rather than a complacent or demanding tone. The “rewards center” for dogs is often fulfilled by things such as food, petting, and other aspects of life a dog enjoys, but these scientists determined that praise in an appropriate and approving tone of voice can be just as satisfying to a dog as other rewards that are often given.
Regardless of intonation, dogs were still capable of understanding words being said and could identify the words that had meaning to them. For example, if you told your dog that you were headed to the groomers in an excited tone of voice, your dog will most likely see right through you and still be bummed out about going down the street for a haircut. This showed that dogs do truly understand words being directed at them and that they can connect those words to their own feelings and experiences.
Most often the words that the dogs understood had meaning or connection within the individual dog’s mind. Words such as “the” or “if” are not as readily understood by the dogs studied as they were not directly related to things they could connect with mentally. The researchers discovered that these kinds of common words were practically meaningless to them during the scanning process.
Despite the common words used Attila Andics, the lead author for this project, said, “Dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant.” This is great news for fellow dog lovers who take the time to talk to their dogs every day. Dogs are beginning to interpret what’s being said and not just the tone behind it, making it easier for humans to communicate with their dogs.
By speaking to your dog and introducing new words, your dog may eventually connect these words with feelings and experiences they have had. Communication between dog and owner is key to increasing the understood vocabulary of the dog, but you can finally tell your friends and family you are no longer a crazy dog lady. Your dog really does understand you, and science can finally back you up!