Brain scans show dogs understand what we say and how we say it

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Researchers who used brain scans to study how dog brains process speech say dogs understand what we say and how we say it.

Just like people, dogs use the left side of their brain to process words and the right side of their brain to process intonation, according to a study by researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. The study was published in the journal Science.

Researchers found praising a dog only activates the “reward center” of the brain when the words and intonation match.

Researchers trained 13 dogs to lay completely motionless in an MRI brain scanner and measured the dogs’ brain activity as their trainers spoke to them.

(Photo: Eötvös Loránd University)

(Photo: Eötvös Loránd University)

“Dogs heard praise words in praising intonation, praise words in neutral intonation, and also neutral conjunction words, meaningless to them, in praising and neutral intonations,” said Anna Gábor, the author of the study.

(Photo: Eötvös Loránd University)

(Photo: Eötvös Loránd University)

“It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both the words and the intonation are praising,” said lead researcher Attila Andics of the Department of Ethology and MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group at Eötvös Loránd University.

The study shows nonprimate mammals are capable of understanding words, if their environment is “rich in speech.”

Researchers say the study could help make communication and cooperation between dogs and humans even more efficient.

(Photo: Eötvös Loránd University)

(Photo: Eötvös Loránd University)