Bilingual Dogs

Sit! Stay! Speak…in a foreign language?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Time for a WALK! Here’s your TREAT! Dogs perk right up when they hear familiar words. But if we spoke in another language, would they notice?

Enter Laura Cuaya and team at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary.

Eighteen dogs from Spanish or Hungarian families were placed in an f-MRI scanner. The dogs heard Spanish and Hungarian audio clips of the book The Little Prince. The scanner measured the dogs’ brain activity.

Results? The pooch’s brains lit up DIFFERENTLY when they heard the FAMILIAR language versus the unfamiliar one! The brain regions involved support high-level speech processing, like language rules and rhythm. 

The older the dog was, the BIGGER the difference! Older dogs are set in their linguistic ways, just like people.

The researchers believe dogs evolved this ability from living alongside humans for thousands of years – and listening to our conversations.

Should I tell my French poodle “je t’aime” instead of “I love you?” Maybe then I’d get a kiss! A wet one.

Reference: Cuaya, L. V., Hernández-Pérez, R., Boros, M., Deme, A., & Andics, A (2021). Speech naturalness detection and language representation in the dog brain. NeuroImage, 118811. Advance online publication.

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