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Dogs understand words referring to favourite objects, research suggests

Dogs don’t only understand commands, but will also understand words referring to their favourite objects, new research reveals.

A study carried out by the Department of Ethology of the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, has found that dogs can learn to associate words with specific objects — a relationship with language called referential understanding that had been unproven in dogs until now.

Dog owners participating in the study played an audio clip in which they said the name of their dog’s toy and then they would show the dog an object.

The researchers measured the dogs’ brain activity when the object in the recording matched the object that was displayed, and also when it differed.

Marianna Boros, a cognitive neuroscientist and co-lead author of the study, said: “When we are talking about objects, objects are external to the dogs, and dogs have to learn that words refer, they stand for something that is external to them.

“We expected that if a dog really understands the meaning of the object’s word, it will expect to see that object. And if the owner shows a different one, there will be a so-called surprise reaction in the brain, and this is exactly what we found.”

The study, which has been peer reviewed, was published in the science journal Current Biology. However, some experts have expressed doubts about its findings.

Behavioral scientist and professor of psychology at Arizona State University, Clive Wynne, said in a post on Facebook that he believes that all the study shows is that dogs respond to stimuli — but that they don’t actually understand the meaning of specific words.

It’s time to enter the Dog Professionals Awards!

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