New Research Shows That Dogs Can Differentiate Between Different Human Languages

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Without a shadow of a doubt, dogs are humanity's best friend. The close association over several centuries may have also given them an extraordinary ability to understand human languages. New research published in the journal, NeuroImage has revealed that dogs can actually distinguish between different human languages.

The research was conducted by Laura Cuaya, a neurobiologist at Eötvös Loránd University, and her team in Hungary. 

Analyses of Dogs' Auditory Abilities

Cuaya and her team trained 18 dogs including Kun-Kun (Cuaya's own pet), to lie motionless inside the MRI machine so their brains could be scanned while listening to the audio recordings of the human speech. 


A dog trained to lie motionless for a MRI scan. Photo: Eniko Kubinyi




Out of the 18 dogs, two came from Spanish-speaking families and the rest from Hungarian-speaking ones. In the machine, each dog was exposed to an excerpt from a popular children's book, ‘The Little Prince', in both languages, Hungarian and Spanish. They also listened to the scrambled versions of these audios that sounded unnatural and made no sense. 

The brain scans indicated that the dogs were not only able to differentiate between speech and non-speech, but they also showed different reactions to familiar and unfamiliar languages due to changes in their activity patterns in the primary and secondary auditory cortex (parts of the brain involved in identifying sounds).

Further, the researchers suggested that the process of identifying sounds in dogs takes place in two steps, known as “hierarchy processing” which involves the auditory cortex (parts of the brain performing functions of hearing). First, the primary auditory cortex identifies whether a sound is a speech or non-speech. Then, the secondary auditory cortex distinguishes between a familiar and foreign language.

During the research, the researchers also found that the neural activity in the secondary auditory cortex of older dogs was more, leading them to distinguish between the familiar and unfamiliar languages faster than younger dogs or pups. 

According to Cuaya, the reason behind this can be more exposure to these languages when humans talk. Moreover, the auditory activity patterns were found to be stronger in long-headed dogs pointing to differences between breeds concerning the ability to analyse speech.

“Exciting” Finding

The researchers speculate that dogs are not only the animals that can identify the differences between human languages. “The brain is extremely good at picking up patterns, and each language has a series of sounds and patterns that make them different from each other”, said Cuaya. “After some training, the brains of many animals should be able to recognize these patterns”.

However, the thing that makes the dogs unique is that they do not require to be trained to differentiate between human linguistics. “Their brains detect the differences spontaneously, perhaps due to the domestication process,” said Cuaya. “While it is possible that many species can distinguish between human languages, dogs are one of the few that are interested in listening to us.” 

Further studies can help know the exact reasons for the same, suggested Attila Andics, senior author of the study. “My experience with dogs has shown me that dogs constantly pay attention to their social world and everything that happens around them. I think they know more about us than we imagine,” said Cuaya. 

Additionally, she believes that the results of the experiments also tell pet owners how sharp their canine buddies can be.

Contributed by: Simran Dolwani


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