Do you think your dogs understand what you’re saying? It is an old-age question.
Do dogs understand the words we say or do they pick up clues from your tone of voice?
We’d like to believe that our furry companions understand what we’re saying! A new study suggests they process the meaning and emotion of words just like we do.
“Past studieshave shown that dogs respond to different parts of human speech — including the actual words and the emotional tone,” said research co-author Victoria Ratcliffe.But her team’s findings give a deeper insight into the doggie brain, according to the Ph.D. candidateat the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom.
The study found that dogs seem to process several components of human speech at once. Their brains also process like humans’ brains do in the way they determine the information in words from the emotional tone.
“That doesn’t mean that dogs actually understand all the words people say,”Ratcliffe said. The findings suggest that “dogs may dissociate and process speech components in a way that is broadly comparable to humans.”
She and colleague David Reby reported their findings in the Nov. 26 issue of Current Biology.
These results may be not surprising for dog owners, animal behavior professor Nicholas Dodman noted.
“No, dogs are not going to read books or compose sonnets,” said Dodman, who was not involved in the research. “But they can take quite a bit out of what we’re saying. They are picking up certain sounds that have meaning for them. They’re also picking up the tenor of what we’re saying,” he explained.
“I’d say it’s a testament to their abilities as sentient beings,” he added.
In the study, Ratcliffe and Reby had dogs listen to human speech from two speakers placed on either side of the animal. The words either had meaning to the dog or no meaning. The very British command, “Come on then” was used.
The quality of the speech was also controlled. Sometimes it was stripped of the trappings of the human voice, to stress the meaning of the words. Sometimes the emotional tone was exaggerated.
They found that when they broadcast “come on then” with the meaning emphasized, the dogs usually turned their heads to the right-side speaker. According to Ratcliffe, that indicates that they were processing the words with inclination towards the left hemisphere of the brain — which in humans is the part that picks up the sound and syntax of words.
However, when the emotional tone of the speech was exaggerated, the dogs turned to the left – which indicates that the brain’s right hemisphere was dominant. And in humans, the right hemisphere processes the intonation and emotional quality of speech.
“To me, this is another step in our realization that dogs are more attuned to us than we’ve previously recognized,” Dodman said.
That is important for a few reasons. According to Ratcliffe, “Developing our understanding of how dogs perceive human speech is obviously beneficial in improving our communication with them.”
There are also suggestions for understanding humans and other mammals.
“In evolutionary terms,we can directly compare humans and dogs to see which attributes of speech perception are uniquely human, or part of a shared mammalian history that encompasses dogs as well,”Ratcliffe said.
For dog lovers, the findings probably just validate what they have already “intuitively known,” according to Dodman. But he stresses that scientific studies of canine behavior are important.
He also said that these findings suggest, “dogs have been studying us for a long time.”
Source: Live Science