Clever canines understand human language, study suggests

Trained dogs around the fMRI scanner (Eniko Kubinyi / supplied)
Trained dogs around the fMRI scanner (Eniko Kubinyi / supplied)

If you've ever caught yourself chatting to your dog, it might not have been as silly as you think.

New research suggests dogs have a much greater understanding of what we're actually saying to them than we thought.

Mark Vette has taught dogs how to fly and how to drive, and he's a big believer of the research.

"The new research really has shown dogs do actually discriminate our words, which is not what we understood," he says.

Researchers in Hungary scanned dogs' brains while they were listening to their trainer speak.

The MRI showed exactly which parts of the brain they were using.

"We've found that in dogs' brains, very similarly to what was found in the human brain, the left hemisphere is more involved in processing meaningful words," says lead author Dr Attila Andics.

Clever canines understand human language, study suggests

Trained dogs around the fMRI scanner (Eniko Kubinyi / supplied)

"But there was no difference for meaningless words, and this effect was independent from intonation."

It also showed the right hemisphere of the brain was able to process intonation - just like humans.

Mr Vette says the canines attach emotional meaning to our words.

"That period of time of co-evolution of being together with the subtleties of the nuances of language and even things like pointing dogs will take me pointing and respond to it whereas a chimp won't."

And by studying canines, researchers managed to find out more about humans.

"[It's] the very idea that we can use words, and not only intonation, to communicate our feelings," Dr Andics says.

"So by studying dogs, we've actually revealed something very exciting about how language emerged in humans."

Next step will be for humans to understand what dogs are saying to us.

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