Any dog owner who has taken the time to train their pet — and strengthen their bond — will argue that that communication is a two-way street. Now, a new study suggests dogs are actually aware of what we’re saying because of the way we say it.

“Although we cannot say how much or in what way dogs understand information in speech from our study, we can say that dogs react to both verbal and speaker-related information, and that these components appear to be processed in different areas of the dog’s brain,” said Victoria Ratcliffe, study author from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, in a press release.

The study allowed the researchers to see which part of the dogs’ brains became active upon hearing a normal command (“come on then”), as well as speech that had been distorted or altered — the results ranged from an incomprehensible, deeper version of the command to a long, high-pitched beeping sound. (You can hear the various sounds here.) All of the sounds were played to see one thing: which hemisphere of the dog’s brain they were processing the information.

The researchers found that when the dogs heard actual speech, they were more likely to turn their heads to the right, indicating their left hemisphere was processing the information. When they heard the distorted sounds, however, they more often turned their heads to the left, indicating activity in the right hemisphere.

“This is particularly interesting because our results suggest that the processing of speech components in the dog’s brain is divided between the two hemispheres in a way that is actually very similar to the way it is separated in the human brain,” Ratcliffe’s supervisor, David Reby, said in the release.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that shows dogs are remarkably attuned to speech and emotions, which would make sense considering they’ve been domesticated for as many as 32,000 years. A study from earlier this year put dogs through an MRI to observe their brains’ reactions to over 200 sounds, which ranged from environmental and car sounds to human sounds, like crying and laughter. They found that dogs who heard human sounds showed activity in the temporal pole, an area of the temporal lobe that’s also activated in humans upon hearing these sounds.

Other research — and certainly anecdotal evidence — suggests dogs are able to learn language, although chances are they only associate the sound of the word with the action, but aren’t able to understand what the meaning is. A 2004 study from Germany found a border collie that understood over 200 words, and was capable of learning more, fast. When the dog was told to find a single toy among a bunch, he was able to locate it without ever hearing its name or knowing what it looked like, because he used a process of elimination to ignore the toys he had already known about.

Being able to understand about 200 words puts these dogs on the same level as a 2-year-old, and it’s not uncommon for them to learn even more. Chaser, another border collie — their smarts come from their history; herding requires a problem solving skills — knows over 1,000 words due to the training she gets, which relates nouns, verbs, and even prepositions to the toys she plays with, her owner John Pilley wrote in Time. “Through play… Chaser continues to learn things that were once thought to be possible only for humans, demonstrating that our minds and dogs’ minds are much more alike that we think, and differ much more in degree than in kind.”

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Source: Ratcliffe V, Reby D. Orienting Asymmetries in Dogs’ Responses to Different Communicatory Components of Human Speech. Current Biology. 2014.