If you’ve marveled at how animals can pick up minute sounds with their specialized ears, you’ve probably wondered how the words we speak to them sound.
Many people think that dogs only respond to their owners’ voice, and that they wouldn’t understand words spoken by another person, hinting at our perception that dogs only hear the voice and can’t extrapolate language beyond a familiar voice. A study from the University of Sussex concluded otherwise when they recorded the audio from a team of both men and women (strangers to the dogs) saying non-command words, such as had and hid.
As the dogs heard the recordings and heard the non-command word, they listened intently and rotated their ears towards the speaker. This is a signal of attentive engagement from dogs. When the same word was repeated by people, both male and female, of varying accents, the dog lost interest, signifying that the dog could recognize that it was the same word. To test this, the researchers would introduce a new, non-command word, and at the initial playback of that word, the dog showed interest again. Similarly, when the word was repeated, the dog lost interest, signaling that the dog could recognize the word, regardless of the voice, even when it was a word they did not understand.
Root-Gutteridge, Holly, et al. “Dogs Perceive and Spontaneously Normalize Formant-Related Speaker and Vowel Differences in Human Speech Sounds.” Biology Letters, vol. 15, no. 12, 4 Dec. 2019, doi:https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2019.0555.