Just like with our human children, we intuitively know the difference between sad or happy sounds that are pets make, and we can accurately read their body language. Everyone is familiar with the ecstatic tail wagging that greets you when you return home after being at work all day; your dog is practically vibrating with excitement because you are finally home.
You likely greet your pet with lots of head pats and belly scratches, telling them what a good boy or girl they are, maybe asking them if they had a nice day and how much you missed them.
How much of this does your dog understand? Do they read body language the way that we do, or pick up on the different inflections in our speech to determine our moods or meanings? According to research published in Scientific American, MRIs show that dogs process language in much the same way that humans do!
Dogs process the words we are speaking in the left hemisphere of the brain, just like humans, and use the right side to decipher the intonation or inflection of our words. When both the words and the inflection match, the dog’s reward center in their brain begins to light up, showing not only that they are happy, but that they know whether the words themselves match the tone being used. Based on current research, dogs who are surrounded by speech regularly will have a greater understanding of human words and the meanings.
What does this mean for the future of communication with our pets?
In 2020, Furbo released a streaming camera that analyzes your dog’s barks to determine what they are trying to say- whether they are hungry, bored, if there is an intruder, etc. It then sends the results straight to your smartphone via an app so that you can see for yourself. Taking this sort of AI technology to another level, we may be able to develop a way to directly speak with our pets, with mutually understanding. When we ask “Who’s a good boy?” they can answer emphatically, “I am!”