Every pet parent at some point must have had this question popping up in their mind: does my pet really understand the language I speak? You have, too.
Well, in a way, concludes a pioneering experiment from Hungary. The research team trained 13 dogs to voluntarily lie in an MRI scanner to closely observe what kind of activity occurred in their brain when they uttered some words. The results they got were nothing short of incredible: dogs’ brains process language in a similar way to humans – with the right side dealing with emotion and the left processing meaning.
For example, only when both sides of their brain concurred that they were hearing praise that they were truly happy. “Our findings suggest that dogs can also do all that (the same way humans’ brains decode emotions and meaning of language), and they use very similar brain mechanisms.” the lead researcher Dr Attila Andics, of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, was quoted saying.
Under the scanner, the animal behaviour scientists uttered words like ‘good boy’ and ‘well done’ with a praising intonation, the same words in a neutral voice and also words that were hollow to them, like ‘however’, in both intonations.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the scans revealed the dogs’ left brain got activated only when they heard words that were meaningful to them. The right hemisphere activated when they heard a praising intonation. According to Dr Andics, this is very similar to what human brains do.
But then, if you ask whether they can comprehend human languages, such as English, Hindi or Spanish, probably they don’t. “Dogs do not understand English or any other human-created language,” asserts Roger Abrantes, a renowned author on the behaviours of animals, with a PhD in Evolutionary Biology and Ethology.
“They do understand words (or rather, sounds) in any language. After hearing the sound ‘sit’ many times, the dog associates it with a behaviour and with some consequences, and will end up sitting more often than not when it hears that sound. If we say, ‘Let’s go for a walk or ‘Banana ping-pong walk’, we will very likely get the same response. They associates one sound in the sentence, probably, the word ‘walk’ with one particular behaviour.”
Next time, try ‘chalo’ instead of ‘let’s go’, and see how your cute partner reacts.