Do dogs understand tone or meaning?
Through a series of MRI tests, we are able to show that dogs separate the word from the tone and analyze them independently of each other. Scientists believe that the ability to use our brain to differentiate between words and intonation was a huge step in the human evolution and development of speech. The findings that dogs use the left hemisphere to understand words and the right hemisphere to understand tone is no longer just a human ability!
Is it what you say or how you say it?
This study found that both tone and meaning are important and understood by dogs. Attila Andics, PhD and his team, were able to have 13 dogs go through and MRI as they listened to their owners’ voices. When dogs hear speech, he explains, they seem to separate the meaning of words from the intonation, and each aspect of speech is analyzed independently. The left hemisphere of the brain processes meaning, while intonation is analyzed in the right hemisphere. This is extremely similar to how humans process speech as well. Saying nonsense words in a happy or excited tone did not elicit the same response as saying “good boy” or other praises.
Dogs need the correct words and tone to interpret what their owner is saying. Which may be why when you tell a dog in a distracted or angry way to do something they are unable to understand. Pay attention to your tone in training, since it is just as important.