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No, your dog doesn't understand everything you say, study finds

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Posted at 9:51 AM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 12:14:49-05

New research may be hard for some dog owners to accept; the study found that dogs do not understand every word a human says to them.

The researchers say dogs cannot hear subtle differences between words the way humans can. For example, the difference between “dog” and “dig” sounds different to human ears, but not so different to dog ears.

The researchers came to their conclusion after measuring brain activity of family dogs by taping electrodes to the animals’ heads. They then played recordings of instruction words they knew, like “sit,” then similar-sounding nonsense words, like “sut,” and finally an unrelated nonsense word or sound, like “bep.”

The dogs in the study, who were not trained ahead of the study, could quickly tell the difference between the instruction words and the unrelated nonsense words.

"The brain activity is different when they listen to the instructions, which they know, and to the very different nonsense words, which means that dogs recognize these words," lead study author and postdoctoral researcher at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Lilla Magyari told CNN.

So, the good news is, yes, dogs are listening to human words and understanding some.

However, brain activity showed a similar reaction in the dogs between the instruction word and the similar nonsense word.

Dogs are renowned for their auditory capacity and ability to hear words and sounds, however the results show they may not be able to distinguish between subtle speech sound differences.

Magyari says more research is needed to understand why this is.

"They may just not realize that all details, the speech sounds, are really important in human speech. If you think of a normal dog: That dog is able to learn only a few instructions in its life," she told CNN.

The study was published this week in the Royal Society Open Science journal.