As a world of dog lovers, it’s no surprise that they are a species that humans are always keen to learn more about. Of course, one of the biggest parts of dog ownership is communicating with them, they are family members after all!
Dog’s love being praised
Most people who own a dog know that when they are being praised by their human in an excitable and high-pitched tone, they instantly give back a tail wag and a look of pure happiness. Owners automatically assume this means they understand what it is they are being praised for but is it the tone of voice they are responding to, or are they understanding the words?
The science behind it
Scientists are wondering the same question, so they have researched whether a dog’s brain processes words and tone of voice the same as the human brain does. For a human, two parts of the brain engage when spoken to. The first, and older, part of the brain that responds to the intonation is the subcortical auditory region. The second and newer part of the brain is the auditory cortex which reacts to the meaning of the words.
Creating their study
In a 2016 study, it was discovered that dogs do compute the sound and meaning separately as a human does, the only difference is that a human uses the left brain hemisphere and dogs use the right brain hemisphere. One of the studies carried out was a brain scan of 12 pet dogs to see how their brain activity would respond to a trainer speaking different words in different tones.
What this means
The study found that the dog’s brains initially showed increased activity to intonations, when the words were repeated in different intonations various times, the brain activity quickly decreased. This suggested that intonation is processed in the older part of the brain, the subcortical auditory region. The trainer then repeated known words to the dogs, and the brain activity slowly declined, but only in words that were familiar to the dogs, unknown words had a different result. This suggests that the newer brain region, the auditory cortex, is responsible for processing the meaning of words, much like humans.
But dogs can’t talk?
It sounds odd that although dogs can’t speak, they can understand our words, but it has been suggested that this could be down to evolution. Dogs and humans shared a common ancestor a very long time ago, so the way they process things is likely to have similarities to us. Previous studies have shown that a large number of other species also use the subcortex and the cortex to process emotional cues and other learned signals, even though they can’t talk.
There will always be a lot of things that people don’t fully understand about their pets, and it is something that scientists will always be learning more about. As we now know, praise is not only an important aspect of dog ownership, but mammals and humans are not so different after all.