A new study has shown that dogs can actually understand human vocal responses and emotions such as laughing and crying much more than previously thought. 

Researchers from Hungary placed dogs in an MRI scanner and found that the dog's brains reacted to voices in the same ways that humans do.  Crying and laughter also elicited a similar response, perhaps explaining why dogs are so attuned to human emotion.  The study is detailed in the newest edition of Current Biology.

Eleven dogs took part in the study, where they were trained with positive reinforcement strategies.  There were 12 sessions of training, so the dogs were able to lie motionless in the scanner for up to eight minutes. 

The team also looked at 22 humans in the scanners, where they played both types of subject's noises like environmental sounds, car sounds, human sounds and dog sounds. 

The researchers then discovered that the temporal pole was activated in the same way when the animals and people heard human noises.

Lead author Attila Andics said: "We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information.   Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it.  We know there are voice areas in humans that respond more strongly to human sounds than any other types of sound."

Dr Andics also found the location in the dog brain activated by these sounds was very similar to that of the human brain.   Emotional sounds such as crying or laughter also had a similar pattern of activity, likewise with dog sounds like whimpering or angry barking.

"This is very exciting, as it's the first time we've seen this in a non-primate.  We know that dogs are very good at tuning into human emotions and that a good dog owner can detect emotions in their dog, but we're now able to start to understand how this can be." Said Dr Andics.