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Dogs can understand human speech better than you think

Dogs can understand human speech better than you think
/ Quirex / E+ / Getty Images

Dogs are a lot smarter than you think!

We all know that dogs can learn to respond to human words, but it’s not always clear what the animal is thinking when they hear and recognize words like “cookie” and “fetch.” Do they have to rely on other clues, like hand gestures, to understand what we mean by that word? And just how well can a dog understand the human language?

A new study has found that a dog’s brain can process speech in a way similar to humans, understanding both the meaning of words as well as their tone. And they process that information just like humans do, using the left hemisphere of their brains for vocabulary and the right hemisphere of the brain for intonation.

In other words, a dog’s left brain tends to be activated when they hear words that are meaningful to them and the right hemisphere activates when they hear a praising intonation. But the reward centre of their brains – which responds to pleasurable sensations like being petted– is only activated when they heard praising words spoken in a praising intonation.

It shows that for dogs, saying something nice can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match.

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