Doling Out Fake Praise? Your Dog Knows

They consider words, tone when processing language: study
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 30, 2016 12:07 PM CDT

Score one for the "dogs are better than cats" camp: New research suggests dogs truly understand their owners—not just the words they speak, but also their tone of speaking. Researchers at Hungary's Eotvos Lorand University measured the brain activity of 13 pet dogs as a trainer repeated words of praise used by their owners, as well as other meaningless words, in both a neutral and happy tone, reports the Washington Post. They discovered that dogs "not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant," researcher Attila Andics explains, telling Today we may have "to re-think what makes words uniquely human."

In particular, the brain scans showed the dogs—golden retrievers, border collies, and a German shepherd—processed meaningful words in the left hemisphere and evaluated tone in the right hemisphere, like humans. But only when the words were full of praise and spoken in a happy tone did the brain's "rewards center" light up. A different area of the brain was activated when positive words were spoken in a neutral tone, but only slightly, reports the Verge. The takeaway? "Even if you use a very excited tone of voice to tell the dog he's going to the vet, he'll probably see through you," reports the Post. Experts believe dogs may have had this ability to understand language before domestication. (Dogs may like praise as much as treats.)

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