Canine Comprehension

  • Uncategorized
  • September 1, 2016
  • by Jacki Skole
  • 0 Comments

I’ve long believed that Galen understands me when I speak to her. If she didn’t, would she drag herself out of her crate and run upstairs to my daughters’ rooms to wake them each morning upon hearing me call out, “Galen, it’s time to wake the girls?” Would she, when standing in the garage, meet me at the sliding glass door on our deck when I say, “Go around?” And then there are the simple commands she follows, like sitting when I say, “Sit” or coming, when I say, “Galen, come.” (Of course, she sometimes decides not to come, but that is a decision she makes with intention, not for lack of understanding.)

That dogs understand words isn’t something researchers are just discovering. It’s likely you’ve heard of Chaser, the celebrated border collie whose owner, John Pilley, taught her more than 1000 words, including proper nouns, verbs, adverbs, and prepositions. But now imaging studies of dogs’ brains are giving researchers insight into how the canine brain works—and it turns out, it works much like the human brain.

Callie, in a magnetic resonance imaging machine at Emory University, where similar studies are being done.
Callie, in a magnetic resonance imaging machine at Emory University, where similar studies are being done.

Humans process words, which are merely symbols representing ideas, in the left hemisphere of the brain. We process tone in our right hemisphere. Dogs do the same, according to the findings of a newly released study out of Hungary. Thus, the researchers conclude that a dog’s understanding of what humans say goes beyond intonation to the specific words that are used.

Science magazine has a nice little article explaining the study, along with a short, even easier-to-follow, video. I encourage you to check them out. And if you want to learn more about Chaser, this remarkable border collie has her own website.

Dogs trained by Emory University researchers to sit in MRI machines.
Dogs trained by Emory University researchers to sit in MRI machines.

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