Do dogs understand what we say?


"Although we cannot say how much or in what way dogs understand information in speech from our study, we can say that dogs react to both verbal and physical postures and gestures. These components appear to be processed in different areas of the dog's brain," says Victoria Ratcliffe of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex.

In other words, dogs listen and respond to the meaning of your words differently than they listen and respond to your tone, volume, emotion and other non-verbal cues when you speak to them.

 To discover this,Ratcliffe and her supervisor David Reby dogs respond the same way to these two distinct types of information which are both transmitted in human speech. They played speech from either side of the dog so that the sounds entered each of their ears at the same time and with the same amplitude.

The input from each ear is mainly transmitted to the opposite hemisphere of the brain," Ratcliffe explains. "If one hemisphere is more specialized in processing certain information in the sound, then that information is perceived as coming from the opposite ear."

If the dog turned to its left, that showed that the information in the sound being played was heard more prominently by the left ear, suggesting that the right hemisphere is more specialized in processing that kind of information.

The researchers dogs' responded differently to particular to particular aspects of human speech. When presented with familiar spoken commands words were made obvious, dogs showed a left-hemisphere processing bias by  turning to the right. When intonation or speaker-related vocal cues were exaggerated instead, dogs showed a significant right-hemisphere bias.

.Doe this mean that one component of speech is more meaningful than the other? Do Dogs understand the meanings of our commands or are they just responding to the tone of our voice? Both, it seems. The results of the study dont mean dogs actually understand everything that we humans might say or that they have a human-like ability of language--far from it. But, says Ratcliffe, these results support the idea that our canine companions are paying attention "not only to who we are and how we say things, but also to what we say."

All of this should come as good news to many of us dog-loving humans, as we spend considerable time talking to our respective pups already. They might not always understand you, but they really are listening

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