Dogs may be able to tell difference between speech patterns, study finds

Research shows that dogs pay attention to human chatter, even though they may appear to haveselective hearing.

The brains of our canine companions can tell the difference between speech and non-speech when listening to human voices and showing different responses to speech in an unfamiliar language, as revealed by researchers who arranged for headphones to be worn by dogs.

The findings support other studies that suggest animals and humans share some skills.

Dr Attila Andics, senior author of the study at Etvs Lornd University in Hungary, said that their capacities to process speech and languages are not unique.

The research involved 18 dogs of various ages and breeds that were trained to lie in an MRI scanner without restraint or sedation, but with headphones on. They were then played recordings of humans reading excerpts from The Little Prince, which sounded unnatural because they were cut up into small pieces.

The results of the study show that the brains of the dogs show a different pattern of activity in the primary auditory cortex for speech compared with non-speech, regardless of the language used. The longer the dog's head was, the better their brain could distinguish speech from non-speech.

The activity pattern was stronger for non- speech. According to Andics, dogs aren't "tuned in to speech" and that's why they don't respond to it as well as humans.

Natural speech sounds natural to them. He said that the other one sounds strange, not the typical pattern we hear.

The research showed that the responses in the secondary auditory cortex and precruciate gyrus were only for speech. Andics said that it was important that the ability to distinguish between languages was not just down to the speakers being different.

Exposure to the familiar language and a sensitivity to language-specific regularities are likely to be the reasons for the differences between languages for speech.

The older dogs show the stronger difference between the two languages. He said it made sense to look at the response to human speech in dogs. Questions remain.

We are not sure if this is something that only dog brains can do or if dogs became better at detecting speech as a result of certain brain changes during these tens of thousands of years of domestication.

The professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London welcomed the research.

She said it was a nice demonstration of how much dogs listen to our voices and how much information they pull out.

Almost everything you can find about human speech and human language is unique to humans, and you can find an animal somewhere that can do it.