A paper published in Current Biology describes research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare the sound processing regions of brains in humans and dogs (border collies and golden retrievers). The subjects listened to almost 300 sounds (vocalizations from dogs and humans as well as non-vocal sounds) or no sound as a control. They used the fMRI to locate sound-sensitive regions (auditory cortex) in the human and dog brains. Not surprisingly, the human auditory cortex was mostly (87%) sensitive to human vocalizations. In contrast, the dog’s auditory cortex was mainly responsive to both dog vocalizations (39%) or non-vocal sounds (48%). Interestingly, both dogs and humans appear to process positive and negative vocal emotions quite similarly, which may be a reflection of thousands of years of co-existance. Although comparisons with other species would help to confirm whether this is common among mammals.
The ultimate goal is to find out whether dogs can understand human language or whether they just hear sounds.
A. Andics et al., “Voice-sensitive regions in the dog and human brain are revealed by comparative fMRI,” Current Biology, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.01.058, 2014.