Dog brains can detect speech and show different activity patterns to a familiar and an unfamiliar language, a new brain imaging study out of Hungary finds. This is the first demonstration that a non-human brain can differentiate two languages.

“Dogs are really good in the human environment,” said study author Laura Cuaya, a postdoctoral researcher at the Neuroethology of Communication Lab at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. 

“We found that they know more than I expected about human language,” Cuaya said. “Certainly, this ability to be constant social learners gives them an advantage as a species—it gives them a better understanding of their environment.” Dogs appear to recognize their owners’ native language based on how it sounds overall, since the experiments did not use words the dogs would have been familiar with, Cuaya said in an email.

“We found that dogs’ brains can detect speech and distinguish languages without any explicit training,” she added. “I think this reflects how much dogs are tuned to humans.”

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