How Dogs Understand Our Commands And Interpret Our Words

December 4, 2019


When you command your pooch to come, sit or stay, do you ever wonder if they actually recognize and understand our words, or are they merely reacting to the familiar tone patterns?

The majority of dog owners like to think that their ball of fur is very clever and that he understands each and every word uttered by the owner, but can we know for sure that canines have the ability to decipher out messages?

Who’s a clever boy?

Actually, it appears that they do. A recent study conducted by Current Biology reveals that our pooches are indeed listening carefully to us and can even understand the emotions behind our words.

According to Victoria Ratcliffe of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, dogs have the ability to recognize different components of our words and decipher the messages within them. “These components appear to be processed in different areas of the dog’s brain,” says Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe also wanted to see how dogs process the vocalization sounds of other dogs.

The researchers examined 250 dogs of different breeds and they listened to speakers from both sides of their heads.

A dog then listened to the sounds coming from the right, but turned to his left side which proved that it is indeed the left hemisphere that plays a role in processing the sound.

“The input from each ear is mainly transmitted to the opposite hemisphere of the brain. If one hemisphere is more specialized in processing certain information in the sound, then that information is perceived as coming from the opposite ear,” Ratcliffe explained.


During this experiment, the sounds the dogs were hearing were coming from their owners and the commands were in fact quite cold, stripped of any kind of emotion. In the second phase of the experiment, the commands were jumbled and confusing, but had strong emotional tones.

This time dogs turned to the right when they were played the words without emotions. The left hemisphere of our brain is in charge of processing speech and the meaning of the words without emotion. Now, when examined canines turned their heads to the left, it was the right hemisphere was processing the content, and that is when Ratcliffe realized the dogs actually understood the emotional tone behind those words.

“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. Dogs are paying attention not only to who we are and how we say things, but also to what we say,” David Reby, Ratcliffe’s supervisor concluded.

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