Can Our Dogs Understand Us?

“Sit Rosco!!!!!! Sit!!! Rosco down!! Sit!!” Everyday I would scream at my puppy as he ran in circles barking and jumping up and down at our mailman. I couldn’t help but think, is he ignoring me?? Does he hear me and just think that our mailman is more important??? Or can he really just not understand a word I am saying. I always doubted this, because when it was just us without the mailman, my dog would sit and stay and come and go just as I asked, but I wanted to investigate this further.

While your dog probably doesn’t understand if you ask them to “Please go over there and sit down for a little bit”, studies show that on average a dog can understand around 165 words. One article talked about how dogs learn words easiest when they are attached to an action. For example, if you ask your dog if they want FOOD every time you go to feed them, soon enough the dog will associate the word FOOD with what they are eating. Another article led me to a study that investigated how dogs process language. The study scanned the brains of the dogs and found that like humans, dogs use the left side of their brain to process words and the right side to process the emotion behind the words ( ).



These two processes then come together to combine the word itself with the way in which it is said to come to a conclusion about what their owner is trying to say. This study proves that dogs hear most words, even ones that are not important to them, in the human language, and then are able to decipher which ones they should listen and respond to. The article also talked about the tone of voice you use on your dog, and remarked that while tone matters, the dog responds best when the tone that you are speaking in matches the words that you are saying. For example, my dog hates the bath. And even if we sing a happy song about the bath, and sound really excited about the bath, chances are my dog is still gonna know that we are trying to give him a bath and try and run in the opposite direction.

I always think that it is interesting to find out that animals really aren’t that different from us, especially ones that we keep as pets. It kind of shocked me that our dogs really do understand a lot of what we are saying, and process it just like we do. Our pets are more like us than we probably could ever imagine.

4 thoughts on “Can Our Dogs Understand Us?

  1. Sarah Tarczewski

    I found this post interesting as I’ve always wondered if my dog understood anything I was saying to her. I didn’t realize the extent to which she could understand, though! It is always shocking to me how much animals can understand which is why (not to get preachy in this comment but) when I discovered how intelligent animals such as pigs and cows are, I decided to become a vegetarian. Like dogs, they’re also capable of an immense amount of intelligence. It’s really amazing the things we’re learning about animal thought processes every day.

  2. cas6568

    Dogs can certainly understand and comprehend some of the english language. I have two cats, and they’re also extremely smart. When I yell “dinner!” they’ll come running down the stairs and into the kitchen, expecting food. But, as you mentioned, there needs to be a connection to what we’re saying and the tone of voice we use. One time, I tried yelling “dinner!” in an angry voice, and my cats seemed a little bit startled. If you’re interested in learning more about different tones of voice and animals reactions, lick here:

    The mechanism behind this idea of “tone of voice” and animal reactions is still not clear, but scientists think that there is a part of the brain (in animals) that responds to emotional valence, when a human talks to them in either a positive or negative tone.

  3. Christian Micaiah Duncan

    I love dogs so this post immediately captured my attention. I believe wholeheartedly that dogs can understand us. It’s evident in the training capabilities. We see K9 units for the police, seeing-eye dogs, even dogs with the firefighting unit. If dogs can do all of this it is clear that we are able to communicate with them effectively. I just think that people always expect an animal to understand the way we understand. In other words, we can’t just talk to a dog the way we do with another human being. If we as people understand things differently (and we’re all humans), what makes you think a dog (an entirely different species) wouldn’t understand things differently? We as humans have to learn how dogs communicate with each other as well in order to understand how to communicate with them more efficiently. They are living beings too and we must take the time to get to know them if we want to understand them as well as have them understand us. They aren’t considered “man’s best friend” for just any old reason. Below is a link about how dogs can actually sense their owner’s emotions. Let me know what you think.

  4. Melissa Lee

    Dogs are so incredibly smart. I found it interesting that dogs also use their left hemisphere to process words and the right to process emotion. I know from personal experience that my dog understands many things my family says to him. This article points out how smart dogs really are. There are so many things that a dog can do. They can help detect bombs, they can guide the blind, and they can herd sheep. I wonder about the processes of training a dog to do all these things.

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