While it is well known that our dogs are sensitive to our intonation, it seems that they are also able to understand what we say to them. This is what a team of Hungarian researchers sought to demonstrate.
Attila Andics . ethologist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest , Hungary, performed brain scans on 13 dogs of various breeds to study their reactions to words spoken at their address, as reported by National Geographic .
It was first necessary to accustom the canines to remain completely still during their examination by fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). The 6 Border Collies , 4 Golden Retrievers , German Shepherd , Bichon and Chinese Crested Dog all excelled at this exercise after months of training.
Then, the researchers made them listen to audio recordings of their owners , still under fMRI. The words of their masters were pronounced in 4 different ways : a compliment in a playful tone , a neutral word in a neutral tone , a compliment in a neutral tone and a neutral word in a playful tone.
The authors of the study found that the left cerebral hemisphere of dogs reacted to the word , while the right hemisphere responded to intonation . However, the dog’s pleasure center was only activated when a compliment was paired with a tone of praise . This indicates, in a way, that the animal needs to feel sincerity in the words of its master.
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Published in August 2016 in the journal Science , this study shows that the understanding of human language in our 4-legged friends is comparable to ours .