Dogs Understand What People Say According to Science

New study affirms what dog parents already know.


Study, Pet
A woman playing with her dog.

(New Africa /

Dogs can learn basic commands, like sit and stay, but how much of it is true understanding and how much is just recognizing tone? This is something that scientists have long questioned but dog owners already knew. Dogs understand what people say to them.

Brain wave activity
To find out the answer to the quandary, researchers decided to conduct a brain wave study that was published in the March 22, 2024 issue of Current Biology.

“For decades there has been a debate about whether animals are capable of such a level of abstraction,” study leader Marianna Boros, a neuroscientist and ethologist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, told the LA Times, “The experiments with dogs knock down the uniqueness of humans a little bit.”

According to the  LA Times, Boros always wanted to know if dogs understood that words had meanings but even when dogs were successful in behavioral studies there was no way to understand what was happening in their brains.

So taking inspiration from researchers who study language processing in people, she decided to use an electroencephalogram machine (EEG) – that measures brain waves – to gauge the responses of the dogs.

 The electrodes were attached by using  cleanser, conductive cream, and gauze. The 18 pet dogs –  that were brought to the lab in Budapest, Hungary –  listened to recordings of their owners using simple sentences and words like; “Rover get the ball.”

The tests lasted as long as the dogs were willing to stay on the mats.“The EEG studies with dogs are quite easy to run,” Boros said. “They don’t need to do anything. They just lay down.”

Conclusive Evidence
After examining the EEG findings, the researchers found different brain patterns when shown objects that matched the speech versus mismatched ones, reported The Japan Times. The brain waves dipped significantly lower when there was a match. This was because the dogs understood the meaning of the words.

“We found the effect in 14 dogs," Boros told the Japan Times;  “Even the four that ‘failed’ may have simply been tested on the wrong words.”

While there have been historically famous dogs like the border collies Chaser and Rico who were able to fetch specific toys by name from large piles, these dogs were not considered the norm.

The study, “shows that a whole range of dogs are learning the names of the objects in terms of brain response even if they don't demonstrate it behaviorally,” said Holly Root-Gutteridge, a dog behavior scientist at the University of Lincoln in England.

Now researchers understand why dogs get excited by the word walk even before the owners get the leash or the word dinner, even before the food is poured. Dogs understand what their people say!

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