Eyes Right – Your Dog Understands You
Don’t be fooled by that dumb-dog look – he understands you, really.
If you are worried that your dog is not paying attention to what you are saying, simply look at where is he is staring.
Dogs look to the right when they recognise familiar commands because they process the sound in a specific part of their brains that remembers that the sound is important.
Researchers at the University of Sussex discovered that dogs respond to speech in much the same way as humans do, processing recognisable sounds in the left hemisphere of the brain.
In contrast, unusual noises or speech are processed in the right hemisphere.
However, due to cross-wiring in the brain, if a dog turns to the right it means the left side of the brain is processing the words, and vice versa.
Victoria Ratcliffe, associate tutor in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, said the results support the idea that pets are paying attention “not only to who we are and how we say things, but also to what we say”.
She added: “Although we cannot say how much or in what way dogs understand information in speech from our study, we can say that dogs react to both verbal and speaker-related information, and that these components appear to be processed in different areas of the dog’s brain.”
Researchers looked at how dogs responded when their owners told them to “come on”. When presented with familiar spoken commands, in a usual tone, dogs showed a left-hemisphere processing bias and turned to the right, indicating that they recognised what was being said.
However, when the command was said in a different tone and speed, the dogs could no longer process it as a familiar sound and so looked to the left.
Dr David Reby, a researcher at the University of Sussex, said: “This is particularly interesting because our results suggest that the processing of speech components in the dog’s brain is divided between the two hemispheres in a way that is actually very similar to the way it is separated in the human brain.”
Scientists point out that the study does not show that dogs understand what their owners are saying or have any language ability.
However, they believe the ability to process the familiar commands in a specific part of the brain may have evolved as a response to human speech during domestication.
Dogs that could quickly pick up what their owners were saying, and distinguish it from unfamiliar speech, were likely to have been more use to early man.
The findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.