Are Dogs Hardwired to Listen to Us?

We express ourselves every day in different ways, especially through verbal communication. You can usually tell if someone close to you is happy, angry or sad by the sound of their voice. As it turns out,

human and canine brains are very similar when it comes to understanding the components of human speech. According to a 2014 study, dogs are hardwired to listen to us in much the same way we are hardwired to listen to others.dogs hardwired dan lentz

It’s no easy task sometimes to get a dog’s attention, which leaves one to wonder if he even heard what you said – let alone understood your words. However, dogs are very capable of understanding human speech as well as picking up on the tonal complexity in speech. If your dog doesn’t listen to you, it’s not because he isn’t paying attention. He can differentiate between human speech that has meaningful words and sounds with only emotional inflections. Scientists have known for some time that dogs “get” how we say things, but little is actually known on whether canines understand what we say to them.

The human brain processes important verbal information in speech in the left hemisphere, but the characteristic parts of speech are processed in the right hemisphere – e.g., the speaker is male or female, someone familiar to you, and emotional cues. When we listen to someone speaking, we hear the meaning of words in the right ear and emotional cues in the left ear. Most of us have a left-right cross link in our auditory organs; in other words, the right ear hears meaningful speech and is linked to the left hemisphere of the brain while the left ear hears emotional cues and is linked to the right hemisphere.In a 2014 study, researchers from the University of Sussex wanted to find out if canines processed human speech in the same way we do. Past research found that animals, including dogs, process sounds from their own species with the same left-right cross link. This new study found that dogs do appear to process all of the components of human speech at the same time, and their brains are human-like in tdogs hardwired s carterhe way they are able to tell the difference between essential speech and emotional tones. Researchers used 250 dogs and tested them to see how they would respond to a variety of verbal commands. Each dog sat between two speakers and listened as a recording of a human voice was played from both speakers at the same time. In the first part of the test, the voice sounded normal and had both emotional cues and relevant words. Then researchers began to vary the speech. They either removed all of the emotional cues from the speaker’s voice or kept the cues and removed words. Sometimes words were replaced with gibberish or spoken in a foreign language unfamiliar to the dogs. Researchers watched and recorded which way the dogs turned their heads – towards the left speaker or right speaker – indicating which ear heard the sound more distinctly.

They found that around 80% of dogs listening to human speech with meaningful content turned their head to the right, whereas speech containing only emotional tones or in a language they didn’t understand, caused a head turn to the left. The findings are important because it shows that dogs can tell the difference between something we say to them that is relevant versus speech that is meaningless.

Of course, dogs don’t understand everything we say. But they do grasp meaningful content in speech, how it’s said and who is talking to them, and to a certain extent they hear our words. This study shows that our four legged friends process the communication components of human speech in ways that are similar to us. The next question for scientists to figure out is whether the similarity has anything to do with our long history together, or whether it’s just a common trait we share with our best friends and other mammals.

Results of this research likely won’t be a surprise to most dog owners. Nonetheless, now you know your dog is paying attention when you talk to him, even if he doesn’t always act like it. This study is useful to dog owners because it can help you communicate better with your pet during training sessions and when giving commands. Be precise and clear when speaking to your dog, and when giving praise. Don’t forget to reward him with some CANIDAE PURE Chewy Training Treats too.

Top photo by Dan Lentz/Flickr
Bottom photo by S. Carter/Flickr

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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