Be careful what you say!

Science is showing that dogs understand us very well!

First off, if you have a few minutes go across to this link on the BBC Radio 4 website. The programme is called: How extensive is your dog’s vocabulary? The segment is just a little over 4 minutes long and is described:

Many dog owners know that their pets can understand key words like biscuit, walkies or maybe even sausages, but can some clever pooches actually spell or tell the time? Winifred Robinson finds out more.

First broadcast on You & Yours, 31 August 2016.

Secondly, you will be nodding in agreement with Ryan O’Hara of K9 Magazine who was featured in the segment.

Thirdly, now enjoy this recent article that was published over on Mother Nature Network.

ooOOoo

Your dog totally gets what you’re saying

Dogs understand words and tone — much like humans do

Mary Jo DiLonardo August 30, 2016

Dogs don't just hear the tone of your voice. They also hear what you say. (Photo: Golden Pixels LLC/Shutterstock)
Dogs don’t just hear the tone of your voice. They also hear what you say. (Photo: Golden Pixels LLC/Shutterstock)

Your dog gets excited and wags his tail when you say “good boy!” and “treat!” and maybe even “Want to go for a walk?!”

But is it the words he understands or the lilt and obvious happiness he picks up in your voice?

Researchers in Hungary say that dogs understand both the meaning of the words we say, as well as the tone we use when we speak them. So even if you say, “I’m going to work!” in your most upbeat, cheery voice, there’s a good chance your dog is going to see right through you and know this isn’t good news.

“During speech processing, there is a well-known distribution of labor in the human brain,” said lead researcher Attila Andics from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest  in a statement. “It is mainly the left hemisphere’s job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere’s job to process intonation.”

The study, published in the journal Science, found that praise activates the reward center in the brain only when both the words and the intonation are in sync.

Dogs in Hungary sit around the MRI scanner used to measure their brain activity. (Photo: Enikő Kubinyi)
Dogs in Hungary sit around the MRI scanner used to measure their brain activity. (Photo: Enikő Kubinyi)

Researchers trained 13 dogs — mostly border collies and golden retrievers — to lie quietly in a harness in a functional MRI machine while the machine recorded the dogs’ brain activity. A trainer who was familiar to the dogs spoke various words to them with either praising or neutral intonations. Sometimes she said praising words that were often heard by the dogs from their owners, such as “well done!” and “clever!” and other times she used neutral words that the dogs likely didn’t understand, which the researchers believed meant nothing to the pets.

The dogs processed the familiar words using the left hemisphere of their brains, no matter how they were spoken. And tone was analyzed in the right hemisphere. But positive words spoken in a praising tone prompted the most activity in the reward center of the brain.

So “good boy!” said in a positive tone got the best response, while “good boy” in a neutral tone got the same response as a word like “however” said in either a positive or neutral way.

“It shows that for dogs, a praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both the words and the intonation are praising,” Andics said. “So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant. Again, this is very similar to what human brains do.”

What this means for us is that humans aren’t so unusual when it comes to how our brains and language work together.

“Our research sheds new light on the emergence of words during language evolution,” said Andics. “What makes words uniquely human is not a special neural capacity, but our invention of using them.”

Here’s a video of the researchers explaining how the whole thing works:

ooOOoo

Yes, we dog owners know they understand much of what we say. Yes, we also have found out that some key words have to be spelt out (w-a-l-k is one for us!) as Ryan O’Hara mentions.

Nevertheless, this is fascinating research undertaken by the team in Hungary! Well done the team: people and dogs!

P.S. Spare a thought for all those Londoners and their dogs who, 350 years ago, this evening UK time experienced the Great Fire of London.

14483075050_a09581cf11_b
This painting shows the enormous scale of The Great Fire. Unknown artist, c.1700.

14 thoughts on “Be careful what you say!

  1. I enjoyed the pic of all those beautiful dogs. Of course they understand us. I can frown and appear angry and my BC X Aussie cross will look upset and dejected. I think they read facial expressions too but, maybe I’m wrong about that. 🙂

    1. Certainly our experience here at home is that the dogs can read facial expressions. Pharaoh is pretty deaf now but can still understand facial expressions and arm signals for several instructions during the day. Plus the tone of our voices is always mirrored to some extent by our faces.

  2. Such an interesting Post Paul.. and I have subscribed to that wonderful website also ‘mother natures network’ Looks a very good site.. 🙂 and no I had not know it was the anniversary of the fire of London either this past week.. Again thank you for sharing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s