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Study reveals that dogs ‘speak’ English… well, sort of

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Posted on September 28, 2016: We’ve always known that dogs can comprehend human language. A new study, however, indicates that they can understand our language better than we thought. In fact, their range of human vocabulary may be far wider, than basic commands like ‘sit’ and ‘stand’. A team of scientists in Hungary, conducted a research on more than 20 purebred dogs. The findings of this research carried forth by Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, were published in the journal Science.

Test method

Dogs of various breeds were included in this research, including Golden Retrievers and Border Collies. Their pet parents’ voices wherein a vibrant stock of words was used was recorded and duly played to the dogs. The result indicated that dogs can not just process human words but even ascertain the intonation to precision. They could gauge whether or not the tone of voice was appreciative or dismissive.

The inference of this test wasn’t based on what the human eye solely observed. Whereas the human brain may err, machines will always predict the accurate result. The dogs were slid into an MRI machine and their brains were mapped as the recording with their pet parents’ voices was played. The brain diagrams precisely graphed out how the canines were responding to the different words.

The pet parents recorded the same words, spoken differently. For instance ‘good boy’ was said in a neutral tone and then in a sing-song voice. The brain scans were indicative of the fact that the dogs could register familiar words correctly, no matter how the tone was altered. It was also observed that dogs could gauge the meanings of words by simply listening, it wasn’t necessary for them to observe the body language of the speaker to fathom what she/ he was trying to convey.

The dogs were not coerced to stay inside the MRI cavity, but permitted to leave if that is what they wished for. When the dogs listened to words of praise, the left hemisphere of their brains was illuminated; interestingly that’s the very location that human beings make avail of to process language.


Whereas dogs processed the meaning of the words in the left half of the brain, they recorded the tone of the words in the right hemisphere of the brain, in exactly the same location, where human beings note the tone of the voice. Though the canines could understand the relevance of the words irrespective of the tone; the tonal component of the voice was by no means irrelevant to them.

A ‘rewards section’ was detected in the dog’s brain. This hub was stimulated when they listened to words of praise spoken with positive intonation. This proved that the best praise for dogs was when the words both conveyed a meaning which indicated reinforcement and was spoken in a pleasant tone.

The tests also established the fact that dogs could set apart words which they were used to hearing from brand new words. This test is to be repeated with other household pets and farm animals like cats and horses.



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