They Can’t Distinguish Between Words That Sounds Alike


If you use “Down” to get your dog to lie on the floor and “Done” for telling your pet that no more treats are coming or that a game is over, he may mix up the cues and not know what you’re asking him to do. That’s because dogs can’t tell words apart if they differ by only a single sound, says new research in Royal Society Open Science.

Investigators gave dogs an actual cue and also said nonsense words that sounded like the real word but were off by just a bit. The dogs’ brains picked up the two sounds the same way, as the scientists learned by taping electrodes to the animals’ heads and looking at their brain activity when the different words were uttered.

The takeaway: Make sure all the cues you use for your pet sound sufficiently different. Most of the basic ones do: Sit, Down, Stay, Come, and so on. But there may be overlap in some. Remember, dogs don’t process words, exactly. They process sounds, which is why confusion might seep in.

Previous research has indicated that dogs have trouble distinguishing between words that rhyme, by the way. So word to the wise: don’t name your two dogs Ron and Don, or they’ll both come running when you call only one of them.


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