Does my dog understand what I say?

So say scientists in Hungary, who have published a groundbreaking study that found dogs understand both the meaning of words and the intonation used to speak them. Put simply: Even if you use a very excited tone of voice to tell the dog he’s going to the vet, he’ll probably see through you and be bummed about going.

Although you may believe that your dog understands everything you say to him, a recent study suggests that he probably isn’t paying close attention.

Despite having “human-like” auditory abilities for interpreting speech sounds, a team of researchers has discovered that dogs lack the ability to discern the subtle differences between words that people do.

The speech sounds that make up words can change their entire meaning; for instance, the word “dog” can become the word “dig.” ”.

When measuring the brain activity of household dogs, researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest used an electroencephalography method that involved attaching electrodes to the animals’ heads.

The researchers gave the dogs recordings of commands they were familiar with, such as “sit,” as well as similar but meaningless words, “sut,” and then completely meaningless words, “bep.”

Untrained dogs were used in the experiment, but experts discovered that they could quickly and clearly distinguish between the known instruction words and the very different nonsense words.

Dogs are able to recognize these words because of the difference in brain activity between listening to instructions that they are familiar with and very different nonsense words, according to the lead study author Lilla Magyari, who told CNN.

The animals, however, did not take notice of the minute variations between known words and similarly sounding nonsense words. Instead, the canine study participants interpreted them as a single word, according to Magyari, a postdoctoral researcher at the Eötvös Loránd University’s department of ethology.

According to Magyari, dogs are renowned for their auditory capacity, their ability to hear words and sounds clearly, and their capacity to distinguish between speech sounds.

But they don’t seem to pay much attention to all the speech sounds, she said, adding that more investigation might clarify why.

They might simply be unaware of the significance of speech sounds and other details in human speech. A typical dog can only pick up a handful of commands throughout its lifetime, she said.

The study also confirmed that dogs actually listen to human speech, as suggested by prior studies, and don’t just respond to familiar humans or body language, according to Magyari, although our canine companions may not recognize all the subtleties.

“It really shows that dogs can distinguish the words that they know from nonsense words,” she said, pointing out that even when listening to instructions from an unfamiliar voice coming from a speaker, family dogs showed signs of brain activity.

On Tuesday, the results were published in the Royal Society Open Science journal. Ad Feedback Ad Feedback Ad Feedback.

Is it training or something more?

Everything seems quite extraordinary, but there will always be debate. Dogs may appear to “fast map,” but they may actually be doing something else that only appears to be “fast mapping” from the outside, leading some researchers to question whether dogs actually understand words in the same way that humans do or whether they are simply well-trained. However, it appears that these dogs have an understanding of things and actions.

Patricia McConnell, PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, agrees. Understanding necessitates that we have the same construct of an object or an action and that we refer to the same thing. For some dogs, it seems like they do. ” Pilley concurs. When a verbal label is given to an object, like a toy, and it is held in front of Chaser, Chaser understands that the verbal label refers to that object. ”.

Even if these dogs are the only ones in the world able to use words in this manner, Alexandra Horowitz reminds us in her book Inside of a Dog that it enables us to see that a dog’s cognitive apparatus is adequate to understand language in the appropriate context. This body of research shows what is possible, not necessarily what the majority of dogs do on a daily basis.

Dog Brains Are a Lot Like Ours

Study leader and dog lover Attila Andics started studying canines as a way to understand how the mammalian brain processes language.

Training dogs to remain completely still in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner was the first step, which was not an easy one. 13 pet dogs from Hungary, including six border collies, four golden retrievers, one German shepherd, and one Chinese crested, were trained by dog trainers over the course of several months.

“Getting them to understand that they needed to lie completely still was the hardest part,” It went well once they understood that we meant completely still, says Andics, an ethologist at Budapest, Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University. (See “Can Dogs Feel Our Emotions? Yawn Study Suggests Yes. “).

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The same 13 dogs’ brains responded to various vocalizations, including grunts, barks, whines, and shouts, from both people and other dogs in 2014, according to research by Andics and colleagues. According to their study, both species’ brains responded similarly to both happy and frightening sounds.

Speech, however, was different. “There’s nothing in nature that’s as complex as human speech,” said Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist at University College London who wasnt part of the new study.

So, using the same group of 13 dogs, Andics and colleagues played recordings of their owners speaking in four different tones: one for praise (such as the Hungarian word for “clever” or “that’s it”), one for neutrality (such as “that’s it”), one for praise (such as “praising word”), and one for neutrality (such as “praising word”), all in praise.

His neuroimaging research revealed that the dogs’ right hemisphere responded to intonation while their left hemisphere responded to the word itself. (See “5 Amazing Stories of Devoted Dogs. “).

However, for the dog’s reward center to be activated, both a positive word and a positive tone were required. In other words, your pet can tell when you’re being genuine when you praise them.

“Praise may be sufficient to persuade some dogs to comply with commands. We treated our dogs in this study like content volunteers who wanted to please us,” Andics said.

Therefore, rewarding your dog for being a good dog is the key to good dog behavior.

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Let’s look at the types of words that dogs understand.

Dogs are able to pick up the names of countless different objects. After learning that a Border Collie named Rico knew the names of 70 distinct objects, Julia Fischer, the group leader at the German Primate Center’s Cognitive Ethology Lab, was curious about how Rico assigned particular human words to particular objects. Fischer explains, “I contacted the owners, and they graciously allowed us to visit their home and begin a study of Rico.” Rico reached its zenith in 2004 when a Science article revealed that she was familiar with over 200 different object names.

When Alliston Reid and John Pilley of Wofford College revealed that Chaser, a Border Collie from South Carolina, knew the distinct names of 1,022 objects — including more than 800 cloth animals, 116 balls, 26 Frisbees, and 100 plastic items — seven years later, Chaser won the gold medal. This is not merely a story about Border Collies, however. Bailey, a 12-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, was also discovered by researchers to be knowledgeable about about 120 different toys.

Dogs are also praised for their capacity to remember new object names. Chaser and Rico could both find the unfamiliar toy when given a group of toys with the exception of one being well-known when asked to fetch using an unfamiliar word. The dogs were essentially associating a novel object with an unfamiliar name after a single association and then remembering the name of that novel object in subsequent trials. This is known as “fast mapping” in young children, and it was once believed to be a trait of only humans. This research demonstrates that this understanding occurs on a single trial, says Pilley. Chaser, however, required additional practice to commit this comprehension or learning to long-term memory. ”.

But life is not only about knowing the names of one’s stuffies and Frisbees. Humans often use verbs such as come, sit, down and off to get dogs to alter their behavior. After controlling for external contextual cues, researchers found that dogs could still understand that specific words map to specific physical actions. Chaser showed an incredible amount of flexibility with actions — performing “take,” “paw,” and “nose” toward different objects.

You might object, “That’s just training,” but this suggests that some dogs exhibit a cognitively sophisticated skill where actions are understood to be independent of objects. Reid and Pilley discovered that Chaser did not perceive “fetch sock” as a single word, as “fetchsock” does. Instead, she was able to execute a variety of flexible fetch actions toward a variety of different objects. Veterinary behaviorist Daniela Ramos in S£o Paulo found that a mutt named Sofia could also distinguish between object names and action commands, indicating that these dogs pay attention to the unique meaning of each word.

Objects could be classified by Chaser according to their physical characteristics; some are “toys,” others are “Frisbees,” and of course there are “balls.” Chaser takes her cues from Alex, the African Grey Parrot owned by Irene Pepperberg, who also learned about categories like color, shape, and material and distinguished between traits that were similar and different.

Check out these free training courses from our friends at Dogo to help with basic obedience and new dog life.


Do dogs really understand what you’re saying?

According to recent research, dogs cannot tell the difference between known command words and nonsense words that sound similar. Although you may believe that your dog understands everything you say to him, a recent study suggests that he probably isn’t paying close attention.

How much of what we say do dogs understand?

Canines can understand words like “water,” “park,” “cat,” and “gentle,” according to researchers. Since dogs were first domesticated, owners have wondered if their canine companions understood them.

What do dogs hear when we talk to them?

The women spoke to the dogs in distinctive, high-pitched, sing-song tones, as was expected, but not to the humans, according to the scientists, who compared the human- and dog-directed speech. No matter if the dog was a puppy or an adult, according to Mathevon,

How does my dog know what Im saying?

The way words are interpreted in the minds of canines with large vocabulary could explain their unique abilities. These dogs might have a special aptitude for processing sounds, and it’s because of this skill that they are able to learn so many different words.