Anyone who has a dog knows that we can communicate with them and they understand some of the things we say whether it be commands or giving them praise. I always wondered if my dogs actually understood the words I am saying or they are responding more to the tone of my voice. For example my tone of voice is much different when I am telling my dog that they were bad for making an accident on the carpet versus me telling my dog “Let’s go for a walk”. My dog can recognize whether I am happy or sad with her behavior by my tone of voice. I knew that my dog understood some words because they were tied to commands like “sit” and “stay” but I figured that was the only reason she understood those words is because I trained her to respond to those words in a particular way. I imagine many other dog owners feel similarly about this when it comes to training their dogs. With the mentality I had it came as a surprise to me to learn that according to Virgina Morell at Sciencemag.org some dogs can recognize more than 1,000 words and behavior suggests that dogs attach meaning to human sounds. While dogs may know over 1,000 words based off of tone a new study shows that it is the words themselves that dogs understand and not just the tone in which they are spoken (Morell, 2016). The study was conducted with 13 house dogs who were volunteered as test subjects. The group of dogs was made up of four different breeds; Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Chinese crested dogs, and German shepherds. These dogs were trained to lie still in a brain scanner while they listened to recordings of their trainer’s voice saying different phrases. “The dogs heard meaningful words (“well done!’ in Hungarian) in a praising tone and in a neutral tone. They also heard meaningless words(“as if”) in a neutral or praising tone of voice” (Morell, 2016). After running through these various tests the scientists noticed that the dogs processed the meaningful words in the left hemisphere of the brain, which is similar to how humans process such information. One of the scientists, Attila Andics, who was involved with this experiment stated “It shows that these words have meaning to the dogs.” This study supports the theory that our dogs can understand the words we’re saying to them attribute meaning to said words. Another study conducted by Victoria Ratcliffe involved having 250 dogs brought into a lab where speakers were placed on the left and right side of the dogs. Different sounds, voices and commands were played for the dogs in different tones and the direction the dog’s heads turned indicated whether it was processed in the left or right hemisphere of the brain. If the dog turned their head to the left it meant that the information was processed in the right hemisphere of their brain and vice versa. Speech is suggested to be processed in the left hemisphere and emotional information is said to be processed in the right hemisphere. Although these two studies are not conclusive and we will never truly be able to understand what our dogs do and do not know, it seems that our dogs may understand us more than we think.
Study 1 – http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/video-your-dog-understands-more-you-think
Study 2 – http://www.livescience.com/48920-dogs-hear-words-and-emotions.html
Image Source – Me