What happens in your dog’s brain when you talk to him?

A new study reveals how dog’s brains process speech — and it’s not that different from how ours do!

As we talk to our dogs, both our words (what we say) and the intonation (how we say them) carry information for the canine brain. When we say “sit”, our dogs sit down. When we praise them with a high-toned voice, they tend to notice our positive intent. But we know very little about what is going on in their brains during these interactions.

Hungarian researchers measured canine brain activity via an fMRI machine. The dogs were awake throughout the study, and listened to known praise words (e.g. clever, well done, that’s it) and unknown neutral words (such, as if, yet) spoken with both praising and neutral intonations.

The results revealed that dog brains, like ours, process speech hierarchically: intonation first (mostly in subcortical regions), then known words (in cortical regions). Interestingly, older dogs distinguished words less often than younger dogs.