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Sound Medicine Radio Hour

Your Dog Does Listen to You

dog with ear cocked
Lily Piel
/
Yes, he's listening.

Ask any dog owner and they will tell you with certainty that their four legged friend can understand them. Now a study from the UK confirms it.

Researchers had dogs listen to human speech through a set of speakers—one on the right side of the animal, one on the left. Then they gave a simple command. They watched to see if the dog inclined its head to the right or to the left, depending on the tone of the command.  We asked Sound Medicine’s veterinary expert Dr. Liz Murphy to explain the findings.

“On the right side of their brain [dogs] will process the emotional content of what we’re saying,” says Murphy, “whereas on the left side of the brain they will process information from the speech that we are uttering.”

In other words, dog brains are organized for speech and understanding in ways that are similar to human brains.

Dr. Murphy notes it’s important to understand that dogs “may not understand the specific words we are saying to them, but when we utter a phrase to them that contains several words and we add emotion to that, they can parse out aspects of that speech.”

She says humans can learn from this study: “When we approach a dog we are unfamiliar with, it may be very important to realize that dogs will take a lot of meaning from how we say things to them not just what we say,” she advises. “When we’re praising a dog it’s important to say ‘good boy’ in a happy voice, rather than in a very unemotional voice or in a really angry voice.”

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Dr. Elizabeth Murphy is a veterinarian at the Broad Ripple Animal Clinic in Indianapolis, Indiana.