Talking to My Dog

Oct 21, 2017

I'm all ears when you talk to me!
Credit Roy Montgomery [Flickr]

When talking to your dog, it's not just what you say but how you say it.  Using praising words in an upbeat, positive tone of voice, activates your furry friend's pleasure center.  What a great thing to do for your best friend!

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Do you talk to your dog? I have always heard that the average dog recognizes about 150 words, although “experts” say that a dog really does not respond to the words but rather to its owner's voice, the way it is said (with excitement, or caution) and perhaps also to the human’s body language.

A friend recently said he talks to his dog every day. When he gets home, he knows she is looking forward to some attention; but he tells her to wait because he has to set down the items he is carrying. And she does – wait, I mean. When he has put his things away he looks at her and says okay, and she knows that’s the time to come over to greet him and get loved and petted. He is convinced that his dog understands what he says.

Turns out my friend may be right. In Hungary a dozen dogs were trained to lie calmly in an MRI scanner while researchers spoke to them and monitored the effects on their brain. They discovered that a dog’s brain operates very much like a human brain, in that the left hemisphere processes the meaning of a word and the right hemisphere analyzes the intonation, or how the word is spoken.

When the dogs heard words that were familiar to them, the brain’s left side was active. When praising words were spoken in an approving tone, the animals’ reward center in the right side lit up. But when they tried saying neutral words in an approving tone or positive words in a monotone, they didn’t get the same reaction. The dogs recognized when they heard familiar positive words in the right tone of voice.

The results of this non-invasive experiment seem to support what dog owners know from personal experience. Your canine friend understands much of what you say. Maybe that’s why they make such good listeners and great companions.

October is Adopt A Dog Month, the perfect time to visit your local animal shelter and adopt a new best friend, who will always be eager to hear about whatever is on your mind, especially when you’re speaking of pets.

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