Are you the type of person that will come home after a few hours out, let your furry friend in and spend at least eight minutes telling them you love them, asking them, did you have fun while mummy was away and making kissy noises that most people would find annoying? If that is you, then you are like most people out there with their faithful four legged friends. But, some interesting research has given dog lovers another reason to talk to them, like they’re about to respond.
A study published in the Cell Press Journal, Current Biology, has provided evidence that the brain of dogs do actually comprehend what we say to them, so basically they understand what we say when we think we’re just over exciting them.
When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the emotional tone and the speaker’s gender, for instance. This is how a dog understand what we say too.
“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 speaker-related information and that 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.
Previous studies showed that dogs have hemispheric biases—left brain versus right—when they process the vocalisation sounds of other dogs. Ratcliffe and her supervisor David Reby say it was a logical next step to investigate whether dogs show similar biases in response to the information 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 specialised 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 specialised in processing that kind of information.
The researchers did observe general biases in dogs’ responses to particular aspects of human speech. When presented with familiar spoken commands in which the meaningful components of words were made more obvious, dogs showed a left-hemisphere processing bias, as indicated by turning to the right. When the intonation or speaker-related vocal cues were exaggerated instead, dogs showed a significant right-hemisphere bias.
So while we stand there cooing and telling them just how much we love them, they may not be able to respond, but they definitely are listening and if we say it the right way, they even understand.
So today, give your pooch some extra loving and tell them you love them, because hey, it might brighten up their day!
Do you talk to your dog or your other pets frequently? Tell us in the comments below…