Paris (AFP)

They really lack the word: dogs have the ability to recognize the same word uttered by strangers, a pre-disposition to understanding language that was thought to be reserved for humans, according to a study published Wednesday in Royal Society .

It was already known that domesticated dogs included simple commands like "sit!" or "lying down!", and that they were able to recognize familiar human voices pronouncing known sentences.

But we did not know how they perceived human speech and its phonetics.

A team from the British University of Sussex conducted an experiment on 70 domestic dogs of different breeds, to whom they uttered several syllables, meaningless for them, uttered by unknown persons - 13 men and 14 women.

By observing dogs' reaction to different sound stimuli (by the so-called "habituation-déshabituation" method), the researchers discovered that dogs could recognize the words spoken ("hid", "had" and "who'd ") by different speakers.

That is to say that they managed to "generalize the phonemes independently of the people who pronounced them", explains to AFP David Reby, professor in ethology at the University of Lyon Saint-Etienne and co-author of the study.

"It was thought until now that this ability to categorize words, without prior training, was restricted to humans, and we suggest that this is not the case," says Holly Root-Gutteridge of the University of Sussex. co-author.

"This type of phoneme recognition is a prerequisite of the language because to speak, you must be able to identify the same word through different speakers," says the researcher.

The study also suggests that dogs arrive, through a few words, meaningless for them ("heed", "heard", "hood" ...), to detect the voices of people they did not know.

"They are able to quickly form a representation of the voice," another prerequisite for understanding speech, David Reby analysis.

Other animals, such as chinchillas or rats, had already proved abilities of the same kind, but with prior training. "This is the first time we have obtained these results in a spontaneous way!" Enthuses the researcher.

© 2019 AFP