“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 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/08/30/confirmed-your-dog-really-does-get-you/ ).
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.