Do Dogs Understand Us? A New Study Shows How Dogs Process Language

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It’s safe to say that any attentive dog parent can easily see that dogs recognize the words that they’ve been taught, but just how they do that has never been fully understood by researchers before. Now, a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, shows how dogs process language, and scientists found that dogs do have at least a basic understanding of the words that their humans teach them.

According to U.S. News & World Report, dogs’ brains respond to words that they’ve been taught, as well as new words. The new study is the one of the first to use brain imaging scans to examine how dogs process the words that they learn, and also, how those words are associated with objects. Researchers found that dogs can differentiate between words that they already know and those that they don’t, while also being able to associate words with familiar objects.

“[D]ogs have the capacity to process at least some aspects of human language since they can learn to follow verbal commands,” lead study author Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, was quoted in a recent press release as saying. But previous research has been inconclusive as to whether dogs actually understand words, or instead rely on other clues like gestures, emotional expressions, or other visual cues from their people.

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Researchers studied the brain mechanisms that dogs use to differentiate between words, and also examined what a word even is to a dog. Berns is also the founder of the Dog Project, which has previously studied dog’s neural responses to an expected reward, how dogs’ brains process faces, and now, how dogs’ brains process human language.

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