Even so, there is still a lot we don’t know about how much dogs truly understand. MRI results of the canine brain show us that dogs are wired differently than us, and this may impact how they process language. For example, it has yet to be proven that dogs visually conjure up the image of the word “bone” when they hear it. Still, it hasn’t been disproven that dogs don’t associate certain words with certain experiences or even feelings. It’s no coincidence, for instance, that Juniper drops her tail and starts to quiver when I gather her shampoo and towel and say “bath time.”
How smart is your dog? Ask any dog owner, and they’ll undoubtedly say that their dog understands them. Juniper understands many words — not just the classics like ‘squirrel’ (favorite word) and ‘bath time’ (least favorite word), but ‘walk’, ‘treat’, ‘peanut butter’, ‘chicken’, ‘vet’, and the names of all her dog friends.
A recent research study (link) has validated what we’ve long believed to be true: dogs can recognize many words and even differentiate language. The surprising findings? “They could recognize a word no matter who was speaking,” reported lead author Holly Root-Gutteridge. While I’ve long believed that dogs understand words because of the context in which they are spoken, the study suggests otherwise. Researchers noticed that when listening to a series of words, the dogs in the study would perk up and refocus their attention when they heard a new word.
As research continues on canine intelligence and the continued impact of domestication on our furry friends, the larger implication of the study has us intrigued. After all, science has long considered language to be an exclusively human trait; humans are uniquely able to create and make speech sounds that no other species can. But with our four-legged friends evolving with us for centuries, we can’t help but wonder: one day, maybe centuries from now, maybe not — will Fido say, “I didn’t do it!”