Dogs have a better hearing for language than we thought | How Dogs Hear Us?

Dogs pay much more attention to what people say than we realized.

Dogs have a better hearing for language than we thought picture.
Dogs have a better hearing for language than we thought, 2019.

Even when it comes to words that are probably meaningless to them.

Holly Root-Gutteridge, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, had seventy dogs of different breeds listen to sound recordings of people who said six English words. 

The dogs had never heard these voices before and the words only differed in vowels, such as 'had', 'hid' and 'who'd'.

Each recording was adjusted so that the voices had the same pitch. Because of this, the differences in vowels were the only clues the dogs had. How people said the words had no influence.

Moving ears and eyes

After hearing the recordings only once, 48 of the dogs responded when either the same speaker said a new word, or another speaker said the same word. The rest didn't react visibly or were distracted.

The team based its assessment of the dogs' reactions on how long they paid attention when the voice or word changed. For example, if the dogs moved their ears or turned their eyes to something else, it showed that they had noticed the change. On the other hand, if the dogs heard the same word several times, their attention decreased.

Thanks to domestication?

Earlier we thought that only people could notice vowels in words and realise that these sounds remained the same, even if different speakers said them. But dogs could do this spontaneously, without any training.

It surprised me how well some dogs reacted to unknown voices', says Root-Gutteridge. Maybe that means that they understand more than we think.

That skill may be due to domestication, says Root-Guttridge. It would have meant more breeding with dogs that pay more attention to human sounds.

The study highlights the power of social interactions between man and dog, says psychologist Britta Osthaus of Canterbury Christ Church University in the United Kingdom, she adds.

How Dogs Hear Us: human voice perception by domestic dogs

How dogs hear us?Holly Root-Gutteridge, how dogs hear us, 2019.

How dogs hear us?David Reby
, how dogs hear us, 2019.

How dogs hear us?Victoria Ratcliffe
, how dogs hear us, 2019.

Dogs have a better hearing for language than we thought, 2019.

1. To establish the development of dogs' abilities to perceive information conveyed by the nonverbal and verbal dimensions of speech

2. To investigate how verbal and tonal aspects of speech influence attention, arousal and/or learning

3. To determine the mechanisms whereby domestic dogs extract relevant information despite the complexity of the acoustic structure of speech signals


Human & Animal Vocal Communication 2019.