A new study reveals how dogs’ brains process language, and it’s not so different from ours!
When we talk to our dogs, our words (what we say) and intonation (how we say it) carry information for the canine brain. When we say “sit,” our dogs sit. When we praise them in a high-pitched voice, they tend to notice our positive intent. But we know very little about what happens in their brains during these interactions.

Hungarian researchers measured the dogs’ brain activity with an fMRI machine. The dogs were kept awake throughout the study and listened to familiar words of praise (e.g., smart, well done, that’s it) and unfamiliar neutral words (such as, as if, still) delivered with both flattering and neutral intonation.

The results showed that dogs’ brains, like ours, process language in a hierarchical fashion: intonation first (mainly in subcortical regions) and then familiar words (in cortical regions). Interestingly, older dogs discriminate words less frequently than younger dogs.

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