Science has recently shown that dogs can actually understand what you’re saying to them. You know that your dog understands certain words like ‘sit’, ‘stay’ or ‘wait’. But now research has found that dogs understand not just words, but also the emotions behind them.
Science says they can understand us alright!
A recent study revealed that if a dog hears words with emotional content uttered by a human they know, they will tilt their heads to the left. This indicates brain activity in the right hemisphere. However, if a dog hears words said by someone they don’t know and with no tone intonation, they turn their head to the right.
This indicates activity in the brain’s left hemisphere. Dogs and humans both process the meaning of language in the left hemisphere of the brain, and emotions in the right side.
Another study had dogs undergo brain scans to see what happened when they heard speech. It showed that when both brain hemispheres ‘agreed’ that what they were hearing was praise, the dog was truly happy.
The study found that a dog’s brain separately analyses what we say and how we say it. It then integrates these two sources of information to arrive at meaning. So, if a dog in the study heard words that were meaningful to him (eg. ‘good boy’), matched with a praising tone, the reward center of the brain was activated. This is very similar to humans.
You can’t fool Rover
Researchers tried tricking the dogs by replaced praising words with less meaningful words. They would, for example, replace ‘good boy’ with ‘suppose’, but use a praising tone.
The brain scans taken then showed that you can’t fool Rover. The left hemisphere of the dogs were not stimulated. In other words, they were not processing the meaning of the word because they didn’t know it.
Talk to your dog
So, it research seems to show that it’s not only the tone of our voice that counts, but also the meaning of the words that we say. Although your dog might not understand everything you say, keep in mind that he is focusing on both the content of what you say, as well as your emotional tone.
Go ahead and chat to your pooch. But make sure you only say nice things in a positive tone of voice.