Your Dog Can Understand What You Say, But Only If You Do This

By Ashley Tyler

When you tell your dog he's "such a good widdle boy" and his tail starts wagging so fast you'd think he'd fly away, does he really understand the words you're saying? Or is he just responding to your high-pitched enthusiastic tone?

dog listening with big ear
credit: damedeeso/iStock/GettyImages

A group of researchers from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, set out to conduct an experiment that would answer that very question. The group gathered 13 dogs and measured their brain pathways via MRI machine, while different words and intonations read by a trainer were played for the dogs.

Besides the fact that they were able to train 13 dogs to lie completely motionless inside an MRI machine, the group's groundbreaking research proves that "Dogs process both what we say and how we say it in a way which is amazingly similar to how human brains do," head researcher Attila Andics told NPR.

During the experiment the reward pathway in each of the dog's brain lit up only when "they heard both praising words and an approving intonation — but not when they heard random words spoken in a praising tone or praise words spoken in a flat tone."

dog phone telpehone
credit: damedeeso/iStock/GettyImages

This proves that the correct word and the correct intonation needs to be present for the dogs to understand what you're saying. The dogs process the words meaning with the left hemisphere of the brain processes and handle the intonation in the right hemisphere. They analyze each part separately and are able to put it all together. This is something previously thought to only apply to humans, until now.

Pug dog with man hands in headphones showing thumbs up
credit: DeanDrobot/iStock/GettyImages

The results not only shocked the research team, but it also rocked other scholars like Brian Hare who is a cognitive neuroscientist at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences in Durham, N.C.

"Humans seem to be the only species which uses words and intonation for communicating emotions, feelings, inner states," Hare said. "To find that dogs have a very similar neural mechanism to tell apart meaningful words from meaningless sound sequences is, I think, really amazing."