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Dogs can understand human speech, scientists discover

Brain scans discover evidence that dogs process language in a similar way to humans and are only truly happy if a praising tone of voice is matched by the actual words spokene

mridogs.jpgDogs, seen here around an MRI scanner, appear to having an understanding of some human words Eniko Kubinyi

Dogs understand what some human words mean, according to a study published in the prestigious journal Science.

In a world-first experiment, academics in Hungary trained 13 dogs to voluntarily lie in an MRI scanner to monitor what happened in their brain when the researchers spoke to them.

They discovered that dogs’ brains process language in a similar way to humans, with the right side dealing with emotion and the left processing meaning. 

It was only when both sides of the brain agreed they were hearing praise that the dog was truly happy.

While this was only the dogs’ “word-meaning representation”, it still shows they had an idea of what message the specific sound of an individual human word was designed to convey.

Lead researcher Dr Attila Andics, of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, said: “During speech processing, there is a well-known distribution of labour in the human brain. 

“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.