Focus-Science and Technology - - DISCOVERIES -

Who’s a clever boy? Many dog own­ers who talk to their pooches are con­vinced that their words are be­ing un­der­stood. It turns out they may be right. A study at Emory Uni­ver­sity has found that dogs have a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of words, are able to dis­tin­guish words they have heard be­fore from those they haven’t, and are ea­ger to try to un­der­stand what is be­ing said to them.

Twelve dogs were trained by their own­ers to re­trieve two ob­jects based on the ob­jects’ names – one squishy soft toy and one chewy rub­ber toy. The dogs were then placed into an fMRI scan­ner and had their brain ac­tiv­ity mon­i­tored while their own­ers said the names of each toy as they held them up. As a con­trol, the owner then spoke gib­ber­ish words, such as ‘bobbu’ and ‘bod­mick’, then held up novel ob­jects like a hat or a doll.

They found that there was more ac­ti­va­tion in the au­di­tory re­gions of the dogs’ brains when they re­acted to the novel words, sug­gest­ing that they sensed that their own­ers wanted them to un­der­stand what they were say­ing, and were try­ing to do so.

“We ex­pected to see that dogs neu­rally dis­crim­i­nate be­tween words that they know and words that they don’t,” said re­searcher Ash­ley Prichard, a PhD can­di­date in Emory Uni­ver­sity’s depart­ment of psy­chol­ogy. “What’s sur­pris­ing is that the re­sult is op­po­site to that of re­search on hu­mans – peo­ple typ­i­cally show greater neu­ral ac­ti­va­tion for known words than novel words.”

Brain scans show man’s best friend re­ally does try to un­der­stand what you’re say­ing

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