His Master’s Voice: Can Dogs Understand Human Speech?


A new study published in the journal Current Biology suggests that dogs process human speech in a similar way to us. Researchers from the University of Sussex in the UK conducted tests with 250 dogs to see how they process human commands.

They found that, similar to humans, dogs process different components of speech in different parts of the brain. Dogs process the verbal components of speech (such as familiar commands like “stay” or “come”) with the left hemisphere of the brain, and they use the right hemisphere to understand vocal characteristics (such as the gender and emotional state of the human speaker).

Dogs responded to meaningful words with a left-side bias, even when vocal intonations were removed from the human voice. Commands spoken in a foreign language or nonsense words triggered a right-side bias in the dogs.

Researchers emphasize that while dogs can’t fully understand human speech, they are attuned to the different components of speech in similar ways to us. So the next time your dog tilts his head when you talk to him, he could just be making sure that your voice is getting to the part of his brain that will process it most effectively!

For more information on the study, click HERE.

*Photo courtesy of Laura Ingham.