Trained dogs are around the fMRI scanner. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Sept. 2, 2016, issue of Science, published by AAAS. Credit: Enik Kubinyi

New research shows that dogs do not only listen to people’s voices but also understands the words we are saying.

Research has previously shown that dogs are great at understanding words, but a new study also demonstrates that dogs have a specialized area in the brain to process human language.

In the study, the dogs were trained to lie still in an MRI scanner. While in the MRI, the dogs were listening to their trainer’s speech.

The dog heard encouraging words like “good dog” with both a happy and a neutral manner. Then the dogs heard neutral words that were said in both a neutral and in an encouraging way. Whatever the tone was, the dog’s brain reacted to what the owner said, and not only how it was said.

“During speech processing, there is a well-known distribution of labor in the human brain,” lead researcher Attila Andics from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest told the press this week. “It is mainly the left hemisphere’s job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere’s job to process intonation.”

“The human brain not only separately analyses what we say and how we say it, but also integrates the two types of information, to arrive at a unified meaning,” Andics said. “Our findings suggest that dogs can also do all that, and they use very similar brain mechanisms.”

The Hungarian researchers conclude that their results “reveal functional analogies between dog and human brain mechanisms”. This ability of language comprehension is a fundamental function of the brain and us humans apparently aren’t alone with this ability. It remains to be determined however if other animals have this ability as well, it could be that dogs have evolved language comprehension to better adapt to living with humans.


A. Andics et. al. “Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs“, 2016. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf3777