A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than it loves itself. Due to the straightforward and unconditional nature of their love, dogs are often seen as mere creatures, even stupid, but according to one study, dogs understand more than we think.

Study shows that your dog understands more than you think

New research has shown that our canine companions may know more about us than we think. According to one study, our dogs may have a broader understanding of human language than we’ve previously given them credit for.

Common thought dictates that dogs understand the tone of our words more easily than verbiage. Therefore, when we punish or praise our dog, we emphasize our tone too much to seem more or less approving than we would if we were talking to a human being. We desperately want to be understood, and our emotions, which we believe will connect with them more fully than our words.

There may be some truth to this. However, according to this study, there is much more below the surface. Hungarian researchers trained a group of dogs, which vary widely in breed and age, to remain still on functional MRI scans.

They then proceeded to study the way their brains responded when their trainer spoke different human words in different tones. For example, you could say “Great job!” In a high, happy voice, and then use the same intonation to say “Tax report!”

Dogs process with both hemispheres of their brain

By doing this, the researchers found that the dogs didn’t just respond to intonation. They were shown to understand the more complex nature of the words themselves, even when they did not match their coach’s emotional cues.
Even more interesting, the researchers found that dog brains processed these pieces of language in the same way that we as humans do.

Dogs were shown to process tone with the right brain and vocabulary with the left, exactly as we humans do. Then they combine the information to determine the meaning of the words. They recognize that each word is different and have a surprisingly large capacity for human vocabulary.

This means that we are not fooling our dogs when we say something nasty or neutral in a super happy voice. Nor are they likely to be fooled by nonsensical words thrown in a pleasant tone. Like human beings, they understand, and probably appreciate, when praise is genuine. As such, the study showed the highest activity in the reward centers of the dogs’ brains when they heard both a positive message and a positive tone. One without the other was shown to confuse them, just as it would confuse us.

They not only understand more, they teach much more

“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a wacky one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things: a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a ray of winter sunshine. And as he got older, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Above all, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty, “wrote John Grogan in Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog.

It would seem that, with every canine study we read, the same message applies. Dogs understand more than we all think . Our best friends are amazing, and we usually don’t give them enough credit. Cuddle your dog today, and when you do, stop for a moment to appreciate his forgotten genius.

Dr. Eric Jackson

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses. He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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