Roger Salmon column

Roger Salmon.
Roger Salmon.

Anyone who lives with a dog knows that they pay close attention to the emotion in our voices.

They listen to whether our tone is friendly or cross, how the pitch goes up or down and even the rhythm in our speech.

Now a new study shows that dogs use different brain regions on the opposite side of the brain to process the different aspects of speech, just as humans do.

A few studies reported on super, smart dogs that know hundreds of words and Caesar, a border collie from South Carolina, even learned 1,022 nouns and commands to go with them.

In the latest study published in the journal Current Biology, scientists played 25 dogs speech sounds through speakers placed at either side of the heads, so the sounds entered each ear at the same time and volume. Previous work has shown that the input from each ear is mainly transmitted to the opposite side of the brain.

“If one hemisphere of the brain is more specialised in processing certain information in the sound, then that information is perceived as coming from the opposite ear.”

Victoria Radcliffe, who led the study at Sussex University, said: “It could be that as we’ve domesticated dogs, we’ve selected dogs that respond better to our voices.”

When dogs were played the words “Come on then” with the intonation removed to give an unemotional sat-nav style voice, the dogs turned right indicating that the meaning information was being processed in the left hemisphere of the brain.

By contrast, when the verbal information was blurred out, but with the intonation and tone of the speaker’s voice intact, most of the dogs turned to the left, just as you would find in humans.

The findings suggest that dogs are paying attention to the emotion and information about the speaker as well as the command being spoken.

If you’ve got a certain emotion in your voice dogs can hear it.

Other studies have found that dogs showed remarkable similarities to the way humans respond to sounds, with roughly the same brain regions being activated, which came as a surprise the scientists.