If Our Pets Could Talk – June 2024

If you have a dog, I am sure you believe he is listening and understanding what you are saying. You are partially correct. There has been a wide variety of dog studies looking at the relationship between a dog and his owner.

Humans and dogs listen to speech in a similar way, and both respond to what is said along with the attached emotion in the words used. The processing of speech components in the dog’s brain is divided between the two hemispheres in a way that is very similar to the way it is separated in the human brain. Emotional cues like tone are processed on the right side of the brain, while words are processed on the left side – just like in humans. Because the left side of the dogs’ brains respond to praise words even when said in a neutral tone, researchers concluded that dogs possess some ability to understand the meaning of some words. But in order for the dog to find praise/rewarding intentions, the word meaning and tone need to match. Only praising words said in a praising tone activated ‘reward areas’ in the dogs’ brains.

A few studies have found that dogs recognize individual voices but are more responsive to the emotional tone of the speaker’s voice, rather than the specific words. Dogs can tell what your intention is by the way you use your voice. If you say, “you’re my best buddy“ in a neutral tone, they will know you don’t mean it. But if it’s said in an upbeat way, you’ll probably get their attention. Humans share this ability, and it helps us also decide if a person is being honest. Dogs hear nearly twice as many frequencies as humans and dogs seemed more likely to respond to the speaker who uses a high pitch. Dogs are thinkers and listen carefully to the sound of your voice. They’ll pick up the tone whether it’s happy or sad.

One study showed that dogs have difficulty recognizing their owner apart from a stranger mainly from facial recognitions. Study dogs got confused when their owner wore a mask, and their scent recognition did not help with the identification. In this same study with cats and dogs, it was found cats could also recognize their owner’s voice apart from strangers, as did the dogs.

As I mentioned, many studies have been done on dogs, some including using MRIs to check brain activity. A recent dog language study showed that dogs have the capacity to recognize different languages and can tell the difference and react differently when their owner speaks in their usual language versus when spoken in a foreign language. Dogs could even recognize when ‘gibberish’ was spoken to them. The dogs in the study demonstrated that they listen the same way as humans, an ability that was once believed to be unique to humans. Various dog studies demonstrated that when a dog hears unfamiliar language to them, their focus shifted from linguistic content to emotional content. It also showed that older dogs were better able to distinguish between the familiar and the unfamiliar language.

Your dog is a good listening companion. He may not understand everything you say, but he is paying attention to the content and the underlying emotional tone. One of the many good things about talking to your pet is that they will not share your secrets or make judgments about you. So, go ahead and keep talking to your dog (and cat). Just make sure you say “nice things” using a pleasant tone of voice.


For more information about Lake Chapala visit: chapala.com


Jackie Kellum

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