How Well Can A Dog Understand What You're Saying?

4 min read

How Well Can A Dog Understand What You're Saying? - Animals Matter, Inc.

Dog owners typically spend a lot of time talking to their furry friends throughout the day. Of course, you likely use human words to issue commands. Your tone of voice, body language, and volume can also say a great deal, both to your dog and to others who may be listening. But when it comes right down to it, how well can a dog understand what you're saying?

Dogs Recognize Human Emotions

It likely comes as no surprise to most pet owners that dogs can understand human emotions. In fact, studies show that dogs' heart rates increase when they view fear, anger, or happiness. Strong emotions can elicit stress responses in dogs, even without obvious verbal cues. Your tone of voice can also have a significant impact on a dog's reaction. For example, if you use a praising tone, your dog will notice it! A neutral tone, on the other hand, may elicit a very different response.

Brain Activity and Language

Dogs show increased brain activity when exposed to unfamiliar words compared to command words or other words they may have been taught before. This enhanced brain activity may indicate that the dog is trying to process the words presented to him. The dog wants to figure out what the human wants and respond appropriately. Brain scans also reveal that dogs likely process positive emotions and language in the right hemisphere of the brain and negative or threatening ones in the left hemisphere.

Actively Recognized Words

How many words a dog actually recognizes and responds to may depend on its breed and training. Some breeds, like border collies, are more likely to respond to a broader selection of words. Your furry best friend's temperament and training may also influence how much they actually understand. For example, highly-trained dogs like service dogs may recognize more words than dogs that did not receive the same level of training.

Family dogs, according to one study, respond to an estimated 80 different words, and training your dogs with the right treats and processes can help. Highly-trained dogs, including service animals, may learn to recognize up to 120 words. These animals are often chosen for their breed and intelligence. Also, they typically receive direct training to help them provide a higher level of support to their families. Some very intelligent dogs may learn to respond to more than 200 different words.

Can a Dog Understand and Process Words?

Dogs do, in many cases, seem to process speech and words. They may respond differently to actual words than they do to nonsense words. Furthermore, they may have a deeper understanding of what we're saying to them than we thought! Fido may be able to interpret more than "Let's go!" or "Food time!" Dogs' ability to process language may be more limited than the human brain, but dogs nevertheless seek to communicate with their owners and families. That includes understanding what they're saying.

While dogs may not wholly understand word meaning, they will often understand what that word means in context, as you've used it with them in the past. Dogs are also very intuitive when it comes to their humans, so it won't take them long to figure out when a word makes you sad, angry, or anxious. Likewise, your dog may quickly start to respond according to your emotions and reactions when faced with those words.

How Your Dog Communicates With You

Not only can your dog understand a great deal of what you might be saying to him, but you may also need to pay attention to your dog's behavior to see what your dog is trying to tell you. For example:

  • Anxious dogs may pace or pant, pin their ears back, or get low to the ground. They’ll want to be in their space or far away from people.
  • Excited dogs may wag their tails, jump up and down, or push their ears forward.
  • Relaxed dogs will look, well, relaxed! They may have slightly open mouths, with their head and ears in a neutral position.
  • Angry dogs may react aggressively, including growling, barking, or baring their teeth.
  • Scared dogs may tuck their tails, get low to the ground, or whine.
  • Alert dogs may have their ears pricked and their mouths slightly open.

Even by paying attention to what your dog is telling you, you may not be able to carry on a conversation. But you can improve your ability to connect with your pet, interpret what he's trying to tell you, and decrease misunderstandings. Learning to "listen" to your dog can also help you reduce dangerous or aggressive behaviors.

At Animals Matter, we aim to provide the highest-quality products for your furry friend. So whether you have a golden retriever who seems set on having fun or a German shepherd who eagerly listens for your next command, we have the dog beds and other supplies your pet needs to be more comfortable. Contact us today to learn more about our high-quality pet solutions.


How much of a conversation can a dog understand?

Dogs may not fully understand every aspect of a conversation, but they may understand more of it than you think. Dogs often learn to recognize familiar words, from food-related words to words like "walk" or "bed" that indicate familiar or desired activities. Furthermore, dogs often respond significantly to human emotions in general.

What human words can a dog understand?

Dogs can be trained to understand a great deal of human language. To understand how dogs process human language, researchers looked at how dogs respond to human speech. The study indicates that dogs understand some basic words, including those they have been taught deliberately.

On average, service animals respond to about 120 human words, while pets generally respond to around 80 words.

What does it mean if a dog turns its head to the left?

When viewing photos of strong human emotions, dogs are more likely to turn their heads to the left if they view emotions that they feel are threatening in some way. Dogs' brains may process negative emotions on the right side of the brain and positive ones on the left.

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