Scientists chase mystery of how dogs process words

When some dogs hear their owners say “squirrel,” they perk up, become agitated. They may even run to a window and look out of it. But what does the word mean to the dog? Does it mean, “Pay attention, something is happening?” Or does the dog actually picture a small, bushy-tailed rodent in its mind?

Frontiers in Neuroscience published one of the first studies using brain imaging to probe how our canine companions process words they have been taught to associate with objects, conducted by scientists at Emory University. The results suggest that dogs have at least a rudimentary neural representation of meaning for words they have been taught, differentiating words they have heard before from those they have not.

The Emory researchers focused on questions surrounding the brain mechanisms dogs use to differentiate between words, or even what constitutes a word to a dog. Emory neuroscientist Gregory Berns is the senior author of the study. Dr. Berns is a NS faculty member.

Click here to view the full story in the Emory News Center. The story was also featured in U.S. News & World Report, Daily Mail, Psychology Today, IFL Science, Bustle, The London Economic, New York Post, Gizmodo, CBS News (local stations nationwide), Business Insider, Newsweek, Yahoo News U.K., and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.