We've known for quite a while that dogs are remarkably intelligent creatures, but have we still been underestimating them this whole time? It might depend on whether or not you've secretly suspected that dogs can understand humans. New research shows that in actuality, dogs interpret language in a similar way to how humans do, understanding not just the words we speak, but also the tone in which we speak them. In other words, it doesn't matter how cheerful you are when you tell your dog it's time for his ear drops — he knows what's comin'. I guess humans and dogs are more alike than we ever knew.
The current study, which comes from researchers in Hungary, was published in the journal Science — and the findings are nothing short of groundbreaking. By putting dogs in an fMRI scanner to observe their brain activity, the scientists learned that dogs' brains process language using the same regions that the human brain uses. In this case, the stimuli came from a trainer who used praises that the dogs' owners used, in addition to neutral words like "if." They spoke each word in a neutral tone and a happy tone.
The findings showed that the pooches processed the praises using the left hemisphere of the brain, which is exactly what people do. Tone, meanwhile, was processed in the right hemisphere — again, just as it is in humans. And when happy words were spoken in a happy tone?
That was the jackpot. The fMRI showed that the dogs' "rewards centers" of their brains were very pleasantly stimulated.
The results of the study are further confirmation of something we should all remember when talking to our four-legged friends: Speak wisely! Negative words in a negative tone (for example, if your dog goes to the bathroom in the house) can be an efficient training tool; and likewise, if you're praising your dog, really praise it. Positive words combined with a positive tone will go a long way; in fact, a different recent study found that dogs prefer praise to treats. If you wouldn't say something to another person, chances are you shouldn't say it to a dog, either!