How much does a dog understand? More than you might think

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Ever got the sense that your dog can understand what you are saying? New research from scientists at the University of Sussex published in the journal of Current Biology suggests that might very well be true.

Researchers played more than 250 dogs snippets of familiar speech to see how they responded to commands. They found when dogs were played commands spoken in an flat tone, they moved their head to the right, suggesting they were concentrating on the words themselves and using the left side of the brain to process them - in the same way humans do - rather than the emotion. When the dogs heard distorted speech they turned their heads to the left, indicating they were using the right side of their brain to process it.

As researcher Victoria Ratcliffe of the University of Sussex explains "humans mainly use the left hemisphere of their brain to process the verbal content of speech and the right hemisphere to process the characteristics of the voice - whether it’s familiar, male or female - and its emotional content".

She went on: "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."

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