How Do Dogs Process Words?

Dogs are incredibly intelligent creatures. Based on their behavioral measures, researchers were able to determine that their mental abilities are similar to that of a 2-year-old. They are able to interpret gestures and verbal commands. But did you ever wonder how they process words?

Dogs can distinguish vocabulary words and human speech intonation using brain regions similar to those used by humans.

More on the Study

In a recent study, the researchers used 12 dogs of diverse breeds. These dogs had been taught to retrieve two different things for months. These objects all have names. The first was a rubber toy that felt different from the stuffed toy, and the second was a soft-textured plush toy.

During training, the dogs were trained to fetch a certain item and were rewarded with treats or praise. The training was finished when the dog showed that it could tell the difference between the two things.

During one experiment, the owner stood before the dog at the MR1 scanner’s opening and called out the toy names at predetermined intervals. Throughout the experiment, he showed the dog the matching toys. When his trainer held up the toys, a Lab mix named Eddy heard the words piggy or monkey.

The owner then spoke gibberish and showed the dog new objects, such as a hat or doll. This single experiment concluded that new pseudo words elicited greater activation in the auditory regions of the brain than trained words.

Because they believed their owners wanted them to grasp the new term and were attempting to understand them, the researchers expected that dogs would exhibit increased brain activity when a new word was heard.

During the study, half of the dogs showed increased activation in their parietotemporal cortex for new words. The researchers believe this brain area is similar to the angular gyrus in humans. Surprisingly, the remaining dogs in the study showed increased activity to new words in other brain regions such as the left temporal cortex, amygdala, caudate nucleus, and thalamus.

What is the Difference between Verbal and Other Forms of Communication?

According to the researchers, the findings could be explained by the various dog sizes and types utilized in the study. The study’s limitations could also be attributable to variations in canine cognition and the sizes and forms of canine brains.

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. 

  • Gregory Bern, Neuroscientist

This study adds that the study’s conclusion does not imply that words are the most effective way to communicate with your furry best friend. Furthermore, previous research by Prichard and Berns has shown that dogs’ neural reward systems are more sensitive to visual and odor cues than verbal cues.

Effective communication for training entails understanding how we use verbal, paraverbal like tone, pitch, and pacing of our voices, and nonverbal, like gestures, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and so on messages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *