Dogs can understand words related to objects, study shows

Dogs can understand words related to objects, study shows
Researcher Marianna Boros puts electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes on Rohan, a 12-year-old Border Collie, during a test that found dogs can associate words with objects, Ethology Department of the Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary, March 27, 2024, credit: Reuters/Bernadett Szabo

Dogs can understand some words that refer to objects, a new study has shown. Researchers at the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, measured the brain activity of dogs to show that they can activate a memory of an object when they hear its name.

During the study, 18 dog owners said words for objects their pets knew. Then, they would present the dog with an object that matched the word or an object that didn’t match the word.

The results showed a different pattern in the dogs’ brains when the words matched the objects compared to when they didn’t. This is similar to what can be seen in human brain activity.

“Understanding the meaning of the word would mean that there is a so-called memory of that object in the dog’s mind. We call it a mental representation in psychology,” Marianna Boros, co-author of the study, said.

“Hearing the word would activate this mental representation in the dog’s mind, and the mismatch between this mental representation and the object that the dog is going to see creates a well-known ERP (event-related potential) EEG effect that in humans has been studied for a very long time since the late 70s,” Boros said.

Dogs can understand that words stand for things. They have this level of abstraction to understand that a word refers to an external thing,” she added.

The researchers plan to examine whether this ability to understand referential language is specific to dogs or might also be present in other animals.

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