(CBS Local) — Researchers at Emory University say they’ve confirmed what dog people have suspected for quite some time — that canines may know exactly what we mean when we use certain words or phrases.
“Many dog owners think that their dogs know what some words mean, but there really isn’t much scientific evidence to support that,” said Ashley Prichard, first author of a new study on how dogs process language. “We wanted to get data from the dogs themselves — not just owner reports.”
The study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, used brain imaging to probe how dogs process words they have been taught to associate with objects.
Researchers trained 12 dogs of different breeds to retrieve two two different objects: toys that had different textures such as a stuffed animal or a rubber ball, after calling the object by name.
The results suggest that dogs have at least a rudimentary neural representation of meaning for words that they have been taught, differentiating words they have heard before from those they have not.
“When people want to teach their dog a trick, they often use a verbal command because that’s what we humans prefer,” said Prichard . “From the dog’s perspective, however, a visual command might be more effective, helping the dog learn the trick faster.”