In a recent episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart, host Joe Hanson explains how dogs interpret and respond to verbal and visual cues from human language, citing an experiment conducted at the University of Sussex, a paper written at Ghent University in Belgium, and the story of Clever Hans, a classic story of a horse who was known to solve math problems.
It’s hard to know if they’re responding to the words, or just the emotion in my voice. Or the fact that I sound ridiculous. One recent study suggests it’s both. Or all three. Researchers at the University of Sussex played sounds out of speakers on both sides of a dog. When dogs heard commands stripped of their emotional context, they turned their head to the right, suggesting they process verbal meaning in their left hemisphere. And when they heard the emotional sounds in the voice, but the words were jumbled, they turned to the left, suggesting they process emotional sounds on the right. These experiments show that dogs can definitely separate the meaning of words from the emotion.