Your dog doesn’t really know what you’re talking about, study finds

As pet parents, we all love to tell our dogs what good dogs they are. Many pet parents even speak to their dogs in full sentences, but a new study shows that dogs really have no idea what you are talking about.

Dogs do not hear the subtle differences between words in the way that humans do, CNN reports, citing a study by a team of researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.

The researchers measured the brain activity of family dogs using a technique called electroencephalography, which involved taping electrodes to the dogs’ heads. The researchers played the dogs recorded instruction words they knew (such as “sit”), similar but nonsense words (“sut”), and then, very different nonsense words (“bep”).
A dog with electrodes attached (image: CNN)
According the researchers, the dogs, who had not been specifically trained for the experiment, could quickly and clearly tell the difference between the known instruction words and the very different 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 Lilla Magyari told CNN.
However, Magyari, a postdoctoral researcher at the department of ethology at Eötvös Loránd University, said the dogs did not pay attention to the small differences between known words and similar-sounding nonsense words. Instead, the dogs processed them as the same word.
According to Magyari, it seems like dogs do not really pay attention to all of the speech sounds, adding that further research could explain why.
However, the study also confirmed that dogs actually listen to human speech, as suggested by previous studies, and don’t just respond to familiar humans or body language.


  1. I think people are being led to misinterpret the results here.
    Even in humans spoken word only makes up 7% of our communication (tone of voice making up 38%, non verbal 55%).
    It’s anyone’s guess as to how a dog’s understanding of communication is proportioned sense wise.
    With allegedly up to 60% of their brain function dedicated to smell, it’ll most definitely be a very different sensory cocktail.

    There’s definitely a strong habitual element too, if you always command sit at the edge of a kerb etc

    Some dog’s understanding of our own habits is phenomenal.
    I didn’t realise I had a certain order of faffing with my phone, remote controls etc before getting off the sofa until my current dog always got off the sofa as I was about to ( I still haven’t worked out the exact combos he predicts with).

    Since living with a partially deaf dog I have always incorporated hand signals with most verbal commands & have discovered they’re more effective together, especially in situations when the dog has little context or the required action is different to the expected one.

    So to presume a species has limited overall communication understanding, based on only an aural test, is a huge leap.

    Imo this test would only be able to establish a true understanding of human to dog communication if all potential aspects are considered.
    This report gives clues as to aspects of a dog’s understanding but cannot dismiss it, as it appears to.

    I mean for all we know they could all be expert lip readers

    1. Thanks Ian! Really appreciate the comment! I agree that there is a lot more to communication with dogs than this study suggests!

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