We love to tell dogs what to do, but we rarely consider whether they understand what we’re saying. Pet owners assume their dogs comprehend commands like sit, stay, or heel — even play dead and make me Instagram famous, for that matter — but without the ability to read their minds, no one can know for sure. An ingenious new study in Frontiers in Neuroscience, however, finds a way to determine which of our commands they actually understand.
The fact that we can teach dogs tricks makes it obvious that, at a basic level, they can discriminate words from non-words. But in the new paper, published Monday, the objective was to figure out what actually happens in a dog’s brain when it hears its owner’s command.