Almost every dog owner knows the frustration of their pets not listening to them but a new study, published on August 18, might have discovered what makes dogs listen.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the academic journal Communications Biology, found that dogs have greater sensitivity to speech directed to them; especially if that speech is delivered by an woman’s voice.
Hungarian researchers from the Department of Ethology at the Eötvös Loránd, the Research Centre for Natural Sciences and the Eötvös Loránd Research Network University made the discovery through conducting Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) scans on trained dogs.
When communicating with things that have limited speech capabilities, such as those of young children or animals, adult speech is altered. Adults will often communicate in an exaggerated fashion and utilize a specific speech style. This style evolved to help the cognitive abilities of children develop and it seems the same is true for dogs.
How did the researchers study this?
While using an FMRI on trained dogs, the researchers had 12 women and 12 men use dog-, infant- and adult-directed speech to the dogs.
"Studying how dog brains process dog-directed speech is exciting because it can help us understand how exaggerated prosody contributes to efficient speech processing in a nonhuman species skilled at relying on different speech cues (e.g. follow verbal commands)," said Anna Gergely, co-author of the study.
How to make a dog listen
The results ultimately revealed that dog brains responded more to dog- and infant-directed speech than adult-directed speech. This is the first study to prove that dogs can recognize and respond to communication specifically designated for them.
The dogs also showed a greater response to women’s voices in a higher voice pitch.
"What makes this result particularly interesting is that in dogs, as opposed to infants, this sensitivity cannot be explained by either ancient responsiveness to conspecific signals or by intrauterine exposure to women's voices. Remarkably, the voice tone patterns characterizing women's dog-directed speech are not typically used in dog-dog communication—our results may thus serve evidence for a neural preference that dogs developed during their domestication."
"Dog brains' increased sensitivity to dog-directed speech spoken by women specifically may be due to the fact that women more often speak to dogs with exaggerated prosody than men," explained Anna Gábor, one of the co-authors of the study.