How do dogs process words?
By: Giselle Perez
Have you ever found yourself wondering, “How is it that my dog understands what I’m asking it to do? How is it possible that it he knows when to fetch the ball and when to stay?” Lucky enough for you, science is on its way to discovering the answer through promising research.
Scientists at Emory University have conducted a study to figure out how exactly dogs manage to distinguish words and the objects they are associated with versus foreign words they are not yet familiar with. To do this, researchers utilized a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner that measured dogs’ brain activity as they sat still and observed their owner. The owner was equipped with the dogs’ toys and would first say them aloud, then reveal them to the dog. As a control, the owner was to speak gibberish, then show the dog random objects afterward. The results varied per dog breed, though it all pointed toward the same general direction: the dogs’ brain activity was more elevated in certain parts when shown the objects related to the gibberish words rather than their toys. What this data could possibly reveal is that fact that, upon hearing the new word and associating that word with the object, the dog attempts to learn it because it senses its owner wants it to. Dogs ultimately want to please their owner, so if their owner wants them to learn something, they are going to try their hardest to do so.
The results of this experiment do not account for every single dog breed, however. Differing breeds showed differing brain activity areas, which demonstrates the fact that they process information distinctively. Nevertheless, it does go to show an overall view of how our dogs know the difference between commands and how some dogs even know the difference between their stuffed duck and their ball. So, if you ever find yourself in awe of your dog’s ability to learn new tricks, just know that he is likely doing it to make you – and only you – happy, so let him know how much he’s appreciated by giving him a treat or two!
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