Dogs understand more of our language than we think

According to a recent study, Dogs seem to understand the nonsense that we babble at them. However, with researchers not entirely sure, our dogs might be humouring us. They would do that.



As science has so recently ruined for us, it seems that our doggo best pals aren’t very bright. Which is no actual dispersion on anyone’s actual dog, they’re all grand fur people, but they’re not just the sharpest tools in the shed. Ironically, they do love Bunnings.

In the aforesaid study, Dr Britta Osthaus (of Canterbury Christ Church University) dropped this explanatory zen bomb, explaining her reasoning by saying: “Dogs are dogs, and we need to take their needs and true abilities into account when considering how we treat them.”

Well, Doktor Osthaus, allow me to state that you don’t know Jack. Jack is my retriever who knows where I hide the treats, and he knows what night is bin night. Smart.

With that being said, it seems that while they’re stoopid, it seems that they do recognise some of the words we utter. Which is important, because that makes our dogs bilingual, which looks bad, especially when you go to a foreign country and expect them to speak English. You’re the stupid.

One recent study measured dogs inside a fMRI scanner with the data showing different brain patterns in the pooches when they hear words they’ve heard before, compared with completely new words.

“We know that dogs have the capacity to process at least some aspects of human language since they can learn to follow verbal commands,” says one of the team, neuroscientist Gregory Berns from Emory University in Atlanta.

“Previous research, however, suggests dogs may rely on many other cues to follow a verbal command, such as gaze, gestures and even emotional expressions from their owners.”

The study used a dozen dogs of different breeds, who were trained by their owners to distinguish between two objects – and to retrieve the right object when called. Once the dogs proved they could pick out the correct object each time, the researchers wheeled out the fMRI scanner. Poor Doggos.

The owners were then asked to say the names of the objects the dogs had already learned, as well as gibberish they’d never heard before – like ‘zjzjap’ or ‘Australia’s stable government’.

“We expected to see that dogs neurally discriminate between words that they know and words that they don’t,” says one of the researchers, Ashley Prichard from Emory University.

“What’s surprising is that the result is opposite to that of research on humans – people typically show greater neural activation for known words than novel words.”


However, due to the nature that different breeds of dog register information, we’re no closer to identify how much of our nonsense they understand, and indeed gain from it.

“Dogs may have varying capacity and motivation for learning and understanding human words,” says Berns, “but they appear to have a neural representation for the meaning of words they have been taught, beyond just a low-level Pavlovian response.”

But they’re not stupid, they’re good dogs…Britta.


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