Does it sometimes seem impossible to know what’s going on inside your dog’s head? What’s Buddy thinking about while he rolls around on the lawn or lounges on his dog bed? While we may never know the seemingly euphoric feeling of scratching our backs against the grass, new studies have given us some incredible insights on how our furry best friends perceive human speech.
A study published in August of this year found that our canine companions understand verbal communications just like we do.
Our Pup’s Understand Speech in the Same Way We
There are two distinct aspects of understanding human speech – analyzing the tone first, and then the meaning of the word second. Dogs process speech just like us. When we hear someone speak, our brains automatically take in what we just heard and process the communication between the left and right hemispheres. Well, it turns out our doggos do the same. For us, the right hemisphere is in charge of identifying the speaker’s underlying tone, and the left processes the meaning of the sounds we just heard. While there’s still some debate on how a dog’s brain divvies up the task of speech processing, we do know that both their left and right hemispheres work in unison so that when you tell Fluffy to ‘come’ or ‘sit,’ they know what you mean. Scientists are still trying to gather data to determine what comes first, understanding tone like us humans, or understanding the meaning.
While it may still be up for debate, one recent study discovered that dogs understand tone first, then meaning, the same order humans do. In this specific study, researchers examined brain activity using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. The pups were told common words they were more likely to know like “well done” and more uncommon words like “yet.” Each familiar and unfamiliar word was said in both praising and neutral tones. This data showed that the dogs processed the tone first.
Is it time to start teaching Fido some more words? We know dogs can tell the difference between our human words that they know and the words they’ve never heard before. And now we have a little bit more understanding as to why. The next time you ask your dog if they want to go for a walk, try emphasizing on the word “walk” with a happy tone, and see if they react differently for a fun experiment.