Study Suggests That You’ve Been Right All Along, Your Dog Does Understand You

Dog sitting across from girl on picnic table
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The New York Times reported today that a new study due next week in the journal Science says dogs respond not only to the way we say words, but also to the words we choose. So you better stop calling your dog, Gracie, weird things like “Dumpster butt” and “grape seed.” Oh, you don’t do that? How odd.

The study was conducted by Dr. Attila Andics, a research fellow at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, who focuses on language and behavior in humans and dogs. Along with Adam Miklosi, and several colleagues, Dr. Attila discovered that dogs’ brains process language much the same way as humans’ brains in that the right hemisphere responds to intonation and the left hemisphere responds to meaning.

Researchers who performed the study trained dogs to lie in a harness while an MRI recorded the dogs’ brain activity. While in the MRI machine, a trainer said both words of praise like, “good boy” and “well done” to the dogs. They also said neutral words like, “however” and “nevertheless,” to the dogs. Side note: those are without a doubt, the most boring words we can imagine. Both sets of words were delivered in positive and neutral tones. While the positive words delivered in a positive tone generated strong activity in the dogs’ brains’ reward center, every other combination of words and tones resulted in less action. For example, the words, “good boy” said in a neutral tone and the word, “however” said in a jazzy, excited tone both produced the same non-plussed response. So that means your dog knows that the word “however” is nothing to get excited about no matter how it’s said.

Your dog also knows that, when you call it strange names like “Dumpster butt,” you’re doing it with a happy voice and bright eyes, therefore from your dog’s perspective, the phrase “Dumpster butt” ends up becoming words of praise. So nice try, but you’re going to have to try a little harder to make your dog think you suck.

(Via New York Times)