NZ dog behaviourist Darran Rowe says dogs are looking for more than verbal cues when we talk to them. Photo credit: Supplied

Can our dogs read our thoughts?

Dogs think harder when their owners speak gibberish words, a study has found, and one New Zealand dog behaviourist suggests it could be because they’re trying to read humans’ thoughts.

This story was first published on Newshub.co.nz.

They’re trusty workers on farms across the country, loved companions and considered part of the family for many New Zealanders, but how much is known about how we communicate with our canine friends?

A New Zealand dog behaviourist says a new international study goes some way to giving us some answers, and opens the discussion on whether dogs can actually read our thoughts.

The study in Frontiers in Neuroscience, a leading science publication, looked at what happens in a dog’s brain when it hears its owner’s command.

Twelve dogs were trained by their owners, for ten minutes a day, to retrieve either a soft stuffed monkey toy named “monkey” or a rubber pig toy named “piggy.”

At the end of the month-long training session, each dog was instructed to lie in an fMRI scanner while its owner stood directly in front of it. In some of the trials, the owner would say “piggy” or “monkey” then hold up the respective toy.

In the other trials, the owner would hold up random objects, like a hat or a doll, and pair those objects with a gibberish word, like “bobbu” and “bobmick.”

When the pups heard “piggy” or “monkey,” there wasn’t much of a change in brain activity.

When they heard gibberish, however, there was greater activation in the auditory regions of the brains. That’s the opposite of what happens when humans undergo the same experiment.

New Zealand dog behaviourist and trainer Darran Rowe isn’t surprised at the findings, saying it makes sense that there is more activity in the brain for words that the dogs don’t know.

“If they have no point of reference for that word, that is the dog hasn’t been trained, the increased activity is probably due to confusion,” he said.


The Spinoff’s science content is made possible thanks to the support of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a national institute devoted to scientific research.

Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.