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Language grew out of evolutionary convenience. In the course of our daily conversations with out fellow human beings, the way we say things matters jut as much as what we say. A recent study has established that dogs tend to pick up on these details as well. This study adds to our growing knowledge of how dogs process human language, and raises important questions concerning the differences between processing speech and understanding it.The Hungarian team behind this study is one of the few across the world that has been training dogs to voluntarily get into an fMRI machine. Once they were in, the researchers presented the dogs with a number of different stimuli while observing their brains under the figurative microscope. In the most recent study, dogs were presented with both neutral words and praise words. The researchers discovered that just like humans, dogs separated the vocabulary from the intonation in their auditory regions. They came to the conclusion that dogs understand both the words and their intonation.What does this mean?
Before you go ahead and tell your dog “I knew all this while you could understand what I was saying”, you need to understand that word processing is not the same thing as understanding. Understanding is more complicated. FMRI studies are not enough to conclusively establish that activation of a brain region necessarily entails understanding. Sure, the dogs that took part in the study reacted to meaningful words, but it must be noted that these words were often used by their owners when they wanted to attract the attention of their dog or provide positive feedback. So, in a sense, it could be argued that the dogs recognized familiar words and knew that it meant something good.Can dogs understand words as we intend them at least?
Well, of course. The Border Collie, Chaser is famous for being familiar with the names of close to 1000 objects and her prowess has been documented in two separate scientific journals. She knows the difference between the objects and toys in her life. She knows that slug is not acorn, and that Tie Face is different from Crybaby. She has also proven herself capable of performing actions like tease, fetch, and tug in response to different words. In other words, her left hemisphere is in a class of its own.Another important discovery made in the study was that the left hemisphere of dogs' brains processed the meaning of the words independently of how it was intoned. This means that their brains can recognize the phrase 'good boy' irrespective of how it is said. However, it is advised that owners learn to praise their dog and use the expression in a similar way the next time. Consistency is very important when it comes to praise and communication.