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Your dog understands what you say and how you say it

Thought you could trick your dog by saying mean things in a nice tone? Think again.

How could you be mean to these faces?
Enik Kubinyi

If you like to insult your pup using a sweet voice (you monster), chances are you're probably just confusing the poor canine, according to new research.

A team of scientists from Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest used functional magnetic resonance imaging to discover how dogs process both language and intonation, and found it's not dissimilar to how humans do.

"We trained dogs to lie motionless in an MRI scanner awake and unrestrained for several minutes. We let them listen to their trainer's speech and at the same time we measured their brain activities," explained study leader Attila Andics.

They tried speaking praise in both a neutral and praising tone, and neutral words in both a neutral and praising tone. The fMRI data revealed that dogs do actually process vocabulary and can recognise individual words using the left hemisphere of the brain, the same as humans. The team also monitored the brain's reward centre, and found that the dogs responded best to praise words in a praising tone.

"This shows...that dogs not only separate what we say from how we say it," Andics said, "but also that they can combine the two for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant."