A Study Reveals That Dogs Actually Understand What You Are Saying To Them

By lgentile - August 02, 2019

“Who’s a good boy.” “Hey buddy.” “Good job.” “Come here boy.” Do you catch yourself talking to your dog all day? Of course you do! We all do! They are our best friends so why wouldn’t we?! We have full conversations with our pups, whether or not they can talk back to us or even understand what we are saying to them. 

We ask them for advice. We tell them how much we love them and we call them funny names and shower them with love. But do they really understand what we are saying? Do they just hear gibberish when we speak or can they read our inflections and understand our intentions? A new study suggests that they may actually be able to understand what you are saying to them. Well, you better watch your mouth next time you are talking in front of them. They may be listening.


Dogs Can Understand You 


The study suggests that a dog’s brain can process speech similar to the way humans process speech. 

The study also found that dogs can even understand a word’s meaning as well as the tone in a human’s voice. 

So next time you scold your little guy after they eat all of your leftover chicken when you weren’t looking, just know that they know exactly what you are saying and how mad you are, even if they are playing dumb. 

Conducting The Survey 


According to the New York Times, Intrepid dog scientists in Hungary trained 13 pups to climb inside of MRI machines. 

They were then put in harnesses and were told to sit still while the researchers spoke to them using a variety of words and intonations. 

They somehow got the dogs to sit still in an MRI machine? We are already beyond impressed! 

Words And Gibberish


The researchers then used some positive words with positive intonation and then some gibberish words with positive intonation. 

They then switched things up and said some positive words with no inflection at all.

Could you imagine the dog’s response when they heard “Who’s a good boy” perfectly monotone and with no inflection at all? How confusing! But seriously, who’s a good boy???

The Left And Right Hemisphere


When they did the study, they found that the doggy’s left hemisphere picked up on the meaning of the words, regardless of the intonation.

That is pretty much the same way humans respond to speech, too. Let us explain a little more. 

While parts of dogs’ left hemisphere reacted to the meaning of the words, parts of the right hemisphere responded to intonation or the emotional content of a sound. 

This Is How We Do It 


That response is how a human’s brain responds to words, as well. They also found that by saying a word of praise in a positive tone was the only way they could get the reward system of a dog’s brain to light up.

So all those “Good boys” that you exclaim to your pup when they are on their best behavior are really sinking in! Woo hoo! 

Maybe we aren’t so crazy for talking to our dog’s after all! Or, we are less crazy at least. 

Positive And Negative Experiences 


What their study found was that they were able to associate words with positive or negative experiences and they didn’t need the tone of how they said the word to give them clues on the meaning.

But the positive tone did trigger the award system in their brain meaning that while they don’t need the intonation to decipher what is being said, it does help them understand the tone of how it’s being said. 

So, next time you want to reward your pup, make sure you praise them loud and proud!

Published In 2017


Attila Andics is a research fellow at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest and was the head researcher in this study. 

The research team reported their findings in a paper that was published in an issue of the Journal Science February 2017.

When they spoke to the dogs in the MRI, a trainer spoke words in Hungarian that are common words of praise used by dog owners like “good boy,” “super” and “well done.” 

However And Nevertheless


The trainer also tried using neutral words like “however” and “nevertheless.” Then they spoke both the praise words and then the neutral words in both positive and neutral tones.

He wrote in a statement, “It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match.” 

“So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant.”

Why You Mad?


So what does this mean for all of our pet owners out there? Well, next time your dog seems mad at you, maybe now you can figure out why. 

Maybe they secretly hate you because you something about them at the vet that you didn’t think they would understand?

They may look like there isn’t much going on upstairs, but they are smarter than you think they are. 

Choose Your Words Carefully 


This new research proves that you may want to choose your words carefully when you are hanging with your pup. 

“Both what we say and how we say it matters to dogs,” said Attila Andics. 

Dr. Andics studies language and behavior in dogs and humans, along with Adam Miklosi and several other colleagues. Can they work on getting our dogs to speak back to us? Perhaps teaching them how to text?

More Fun Facts About Dogs


So now that we know our dogs can hear us and they know what we are saying, here are some more fun facts about dogs that you may not know. 

Did you know that your dog is probably as smart as a 2-year-old child? Does your dog get along with your toddler? Well, now you know why! 

It is because they are speaking the same language. Your pup understands about 250 words and gestures, about the same as a toddler. 

What Time Is It?


While many believe that your dog doesn’t have any memory or sense of time, that is actually false. 

Your dog not only has a sense of time, but they also miss you when you’re gone.

If it feels like your dog can always sense when it’s dinner time or time to go for a walk, you are right! Dogs are really good at picking up on our routines and habits. 

Seeing In The Dark


Are you obsessed with your dog’s adorable whiskers? Well, do you know what they use their whiskers for?

Your dog’s whiskers help them “see” in the dark because they can pick up on subtle changes in air currents, providing your pup with information about the size, shape, and speed of things nearby.

This allows your dog to better sense approaching dangers or prey or any mice who have made it into your home. RIP little mouse. Or not. 

Don’t Sweat It 


Did you know that your dog only has sweat glands in between their paw pads? And you thought that you had sweaty hands! 

That is the only place that your dog can actually sweat from. That’s why it can help to wet the bottom of their feet on a hot summer day. 

This is also why dogs will pant as a way to cool down.  

Follow Your Nose! 


Your dog’s sense of smell is 1,000 to 10 million times better than yours. Sorry ‘bout it! 

Depending on the breed, dogs have between 125 million to 300 million scent glands, compared to only 5 million for humans. 

The part of your dog’s brain that controls smell is also 40 times larger than a humans. Okay, we get it. Their sense of smell is better!  But our brains are bigger, so there!

Brain Power 


Speaking of brains, the canine brain is much smaller than the human, relative to size. 

A human’s brain is about 1/40th of their body weight while a dog’s brain is only 1/125th. Take that, pooch! Shhhhhh. They can hear you so you better be nice! 

And while we are on the subject, you should know that an ant’s brain is 1/7th its body weight so don’t get too cocky! 

Smelling Our Feelings 


And while we already learned today that they can understand what we are saying to them and how we are saying it, they can also smell our feelings.

Doggies can pick up on subtle changes in our scent, which can help him figure out how we are feeling.

For example, they can smell our perspiration when we are nervous or scared and this is most likely how dogs can detect certain diseases or know that a household member is pregnant.