A study in 2016 found that dog brains process speech in a way similar to humans, understanding both words’ meanings as well as their tone, the New York Times reported.
Intrepid dog scientists in Hungary trained 13 canines to climb inside of MRI machines and sit still while the researchers spoke to them. The researchers spoke to the dogs using a variety of words and intonations—some positive words with positive intonation, some gibberish words with positive intonation, and some positive words with no inflection at all.
They found that the canines’ left hemisphere picked up on the meaning of the words, regardless of the intonation, associating words with positive or negative experiences. That’s basically the same way humans respond to speech, too.
“It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match,” the study’s head, Attila Andics, wrote in a statement. “So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant.”
The findings show that maybe your dog isn’t just a furry hostage that secretly hates you—it’s just pissed because it heard you talking about the vet.