Dogs really can understand language

Dogs really can understand language … just like their owners say, according to new research.

They even process the spoken word in a similar way to humans — and in the same area of the brain, say scientists. It sheds light on why man’s best friend gets excited when we say “walk” — or responds to an affectionate tone of voice.

But how this happens has remained largely a mystery — until now.

A dozen dogs were trained to lie in an MRI scanner so their gray matter could be monitored as toys were held aloft. Different areas of the brain lit up when the team either used the correct words to describe them — or spoke gibberish.

Neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns of Emory University said: “Dogs may have varying capacity and motivation for learning and understanding human words.”

“But they appear to have a neural representation for the meaning of words they have been taught, beyond just a low-level Pavlovian response."

This is a conditioned or predictable reaction named after the Russian physiologist who discovered it.

The study also does not mean spoken words are the most effective way for an owner to communicate with a dog.


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