Can dogs understand accents

Dogs "understand" spoken words better than expected

Research has now officially confirmed what many dog ​​owners should be familiar with: If the four-legged friend knows the command "sit" or "sit down", then he will also stick to it when the word is from a stranger or with an accent or in a different pitch is pronounced.

That sounds like a trivial achievement, but in the animal kingdom - with the exception of humans - it is quite unique. A few other animal species such as zebra finches, chinchillas or macaques can also be trained to filter out differences in accent or pronunciation. But spontaneously only Homo sapiens was considered capable of doing this. (And even with us, the neural basis for this is not completely clear.)

Tests with 42 dogs

Experimental proof of the dogs' special talent was achieved by a team led by cognitive biologist Holly Root-Gutteridge (University of Sussex in Brighton), who reported on it in the journal "Biology Letters". The researchers filmed 42 dogs of various breeds while they sat with their owners near a loudspeaker that uttered six monosyllabic, non-commanding, and similar words such as "had", "hid" and "who".

The words were not spoken by the dog's owner, but by several men and women of different ages and with different accents. The dogs tilted their ears forward or moved toward the speaker (both a sign of interest) - especially when they heard a new word that had a slightly different vowel sound. This suggests, the researchers say, that the dogs recognized the difference.

In the video above, the Border Collie Max turns around quickly and listens attentively as a woman says "had" for the first time. But when other women repeat the word with different accents, he loses interest and indicates that he knows they are all saying the same word. When a speaker says a new word, however, Max picks up his ears again - but his attention falls suddenly when a new voice says "had" again.

Dogs listen to us

Taken together, these reactions indicate that dogs recognize words independently of the speaker and that they do not need any training for this, sums up Holly Root-Gutteridge's team. Based on the experiments, the researchers cannot show that the dogs "understood" what the words mean. But the tests clearly show that dogs are listening to us - even when it's not about them. (red, December 9, 2019)