It is not uncommon to see people talking to their dogs. We mean beyond simple commands like sit, catch, or walk. It’s easy to think that these individuals have taken leave of their senses. Dogs cannot understand humans. Or can they?
A study performed by the University of Sussex leads some to believe that dogs understand more than what most people think. According to this study, canines were able to identify the difference between words that sound very similar. For example, they could distinguish between hid and had. It was also found that dogs could understand different dialects and accents.
Things Discovered during the Study
The study consisted of dogs listening to different words through a speaker. The words were spoken by men and women, and the dogs heard a variety of voices. The goal was to see how well the dogs responded.
The surprising results were:
• Dogs could understand short words spoken by different people.
• Dogs reacted in a way that indicated they understood when a word had changed slightly, for example, hood and had.
• Dogs had a stronger reaction to the first speaker they heard. However, as different people said the same word, the dog’s attention span got shorter.
The study showed that dogs are able to understand language at a level that most people did not think was possible. There are dogs that can respond to more than 75 different commands. It is thought that the ability to understand different voices and words stems from a dog’s ability to hear other dogs bark and based on the sound determine the size of the other dog. Once dogs were domesticated, they started to pay attention to human languages.
The study indicates that dogs, like humans, can recognize the same phonemes from different speakers while simultaneously using clues around them to identify speech. This may be what allows dogs to understand utterances from speakers who they are not familiar with.
There was another situation in North Carolina where a dog had the ability to identify over 1,000 toys by name. When the owner asked it to fetch the toy by name, it would retrieve the right toy. This leads us to believe that while dogs may not obey every word that their owner says, they are intellectual animals and likely understand what their owner is saying but choose to ignore them.
A Second Study Backs up Ideas on Dog’s Linguistic Skills
This information jives with what researchers at the University of Hungry also found when they made images of the brains of 13 dogs. Dogs laid down in the imaging machines and heard the voices of their owners or trainers via a headset. The image showed that dogs use the left side of their brains to process words and the right side to understand tone and pitch.
This means that dogs not only understand what words are being said, but they also understand how the word is being said. A command or another meaningful word said in a neutral way did not have the same effect on a dog’s brain as the same word being said encouragingly.