Dogs can tell the difference between familiar and unfamiliar languages, study says

Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 9:11 AM AKST
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(CNN) - Dogs can recognize different languages and nonsense words, according to a new study from Hungary.

When Kun-Kun the border collie and his owner moved from Mexico to Hungary, both were immersed in a new language.

“Here people are really friendly with dogs, so they are talking all the time to Kun-Kun, but I always wondered if he can detect that it’s a different language,” said Laura V. Cuaya of the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.

Kun-Kun’s owner set out to find an answer.

She and a team of researchers in Budapest designed an experiment with 18 dogs to see if they can differentiate language.

Eighteen dogs, including six border collies, five golden retrievers, and two Australian shepherds participated in the study.

Each of the dogs’ brains were analyzed with MRI scanning as they heard either Hungarian, Spanish, or scrambled speech. Their owners were present, and they had the ability to leave the scanner at any point.

Two of the pups were familiar with Spanish. The other 16 were used to hearing Hungarian.

“What we see from these results is that they do pay attention. They do pick up on these auditory irregularities that characterize certain languages,” said Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eötvös Loránd University.

Scans showed different parts of the dogs’ brains were activated when a familiar language was spoken versus a nonfamiliar one, as well as when nonsense was spoken versus authentic speech.

The researchers also found that the older the dog, the better its brain was able to distinguish between languages.

“It’s a fact how dogs are social beings. So, they are all the time picking up information about their social world. And for the dogs, humans, we are an important source of information,” Cuaya said.

Kun-Kun, who was one of the study participants, already knew as much.

So, while “Fido” may not be exactly bilingual, they may be hearing more than you think.

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