Your dog really does understand you after all
Borbála Ferenczy/AAAS

If you’re anything like the skeptics, you figured that dogs don’t truly understand what we say – they just listen to our tone of voice, right? According to the journal Science, you’re wrong.

Researchers in Hungary trained 13 dogs to sit still in an fMRI machine. And what a task that must have been! While in the scanner, a trainer repeated words/phrases to them. Some of them were praises like “good”, “well done”, and “clever”- they are quite a bit more proper than us Americans after all. Other meaningless, neutral words were repeated, such as “however” and “yet”. The trainers spoke the meaningless phrases in both a monotone voice as well as a perky, praise type voice.

You guessed it. Regardless of whether spoken to in a neutral voice or a perky voice, the dogs responded the most to the praise words. The reward centers in their brain lit up regardless of the tone of voice that was used, just as a human’s would.
Dogs rely on both the tone of our voice in addition to vocabulary to interpret meaning.
Borbála Ferenczy/AAAS

Awake canine neuroimaging has allowed us hoomans to gain a lot more information on what drives the behavior of our best friends. In an attempt to bolster the credibility of fMRI as a predictor of behavior, a study out of Emory University was recently published, evaluating activation of the ventral caudate (part of the brain that plays a crucial role in executive functions and associative learning) with both food and praise. Of the 15 dogs the researches evaluated, 13 of 15 showed significant more activity in the caudate (compared with the control group) with reward-predicting stimuli as compared to food. The degree of caudate activation turned out to be a very good predictor of whether a dog would select their owner or food in a Y-maze. The study goes to show why social interaction and praise can be even more effective in training exercises than food rewards.

So what did we learn? Yes, your dog really does love you. And yes he does understand what you say. I don’t know about you guys, but we’re going to have to start spelling in this household.

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  1. Working with Military Police Dogs, I can tell you that dog truly understand their masters better than people think. A dog can look at its master and know what they think and feel. When attached to a leash, the emotions of the owner can travel down the leash to the dog, and the dog can send it back up the leash.

    • That’s awesome Michael! Dogs seem to have that sixth sense that humans don’t which makes them great for military and police work. Can I ask what you do?

    • : Les PUA comme référence scueftiniqie, il fallait oser 🙂 !Bien sûr que la sélection naturelle est toujours à l’oeuvre : celle-ci ne professe finalement que : “ceux qui ont le plus de descendance ne sont pas déterminés au hasard”. Et à ce titre, au niveau planétaire, les plus “aptes” pour le moment sont les pays du tiers-monde avec une faible éducation des femmes, et non pas les pays des PUA rouleurs de mécanique à Ray-Ban.

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