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New Study Shows That Our Dogs Understand What We Are Saying

By Dr. Andrew Jones


The study titled ‘Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs’ recently published in the Journal of Science (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2016/08/26/science.aaf3777.full), has shown that our dogs have much more complex brains than previously thought- they ‘really’ think..even Irish Setters.

Moods of an Irish Setter

irsih setter moods

The study used 13 dogs, including golden retrievers, border collies, a German shepherd. The dogs were trained to lie down and remain still for more than seven minutes while in a brain-scanning MRI.

Dogs use the left hemisphere of the brain to process words, much the way we do, said Attila Andics, a research fellow at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary and primary author of the study.

The study also went on to suggest that dogs use a right hemisphere brain region to process intonation independently of words. What this means is that they may separate what you say from how you say it.

The study

The researchers used the machine to record and measure neural activity in the dogs’ brains while they listened to a woman trainer, whom they were familiar with, recite various words in various intonations.

For instance, positive or meaningful words such as “well done,” “good boy” and “clever” were said in both a praising intonation and a neutral intonation. Neutral or meaningless words, such as “even if,” “although” and “however,” also were said in both intonations.

The brain scans revealed that parts of the left hemisphere reacted the most to the meaningful words. In general, the brain’s left hemisphere is linked to language and speech processing in most humans.

Meanwhile, parts of the right hemisphere reacted to intonation, suggesting that the dogs processed the meaning of words separately from the tone in which they were spoken, according to the brain scans.

Only when a praise word was spoken to the dogs in a praising tone of voice did the brain’s reward center light up like a Christmas tree in the brain scans. The reward center is the part of the brain that responds to pleasurable stimuli, like food treats or being petted.

“Our finding supports those who think that some nice words can also work as a reward for dogs,” Andics said.

Best Wishes,

Dr Andrew J

P.S. You can see the video here:


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Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM