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Dogs get what you say, and how you say it

Image: Dogs on scanner
Trained dogs gather around the fMRI scanner in Budapest. The researchers said the dogs seemed to enjoy lying in the scanner during the experiment. (Credit: Enikő Kubinyi)

Scientists have put dogs through brain scans to confirm what pet owners already suspected: Dogs not only comprehend the words we speak, but also how we say them.

The patterns of brain activity suggest that dogs process the words of their trainers much as humans do.

“There is a well-known distribution of labor in the human brain,” Attila Andics of Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University said in a news release. “It is mainly the left hemisphere’s job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere’s job to process intonation. The human brain not only separately analyzes what we say and how we say it, but also integrates the two types of information, to arrive at a unified meaning. Our findings suggest that dogs can also do all that, and they use very similar brain mechanisms.”

The findings, which are being published in this week’s issue of the journal Science, are based on functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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