Do Dogs Understand Human Language?

Labrador listens
Susan Cato / Flickr

Have you wondered if dogs understand human language? Can they understand everything you’re telling them? Do you have an eavesdropper for a dog? Does it catch the conversations you have with your family and friends? If you’ve thought these questions yourself, then this is the right article for you. Here we discuss if dogs understand human language. So read on to know more.

Can Dogs Recognize Human Language?

Dogs are smart animals. But research still has to determine if and how well they really understand human language. Some research suggests they do not understand our lingo. But other research shows they do process human language. We just don’t know up to what extent.

Researchers initially discovered through a Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, that the brain of a dog lights up whenever a person talks to it. And that it is the left side of a dog’s brain that responds (or lights up) when humans converse with it.

MisterSliwex / Flickr

Did you know that humans also process language on the left side of the brain? That’s an interesting similarity that dogs share with humans, right? But a second report admits that it may be the right side of the dog’s brain that lights up when people talk to it.

Anyway, more study needs to be done to verify previous findings. But we know at least that dogs respond to human talk. We just can’t ascertain whether it’s the left side or the right side of the brain that processes the language that a dog hears.

How Can Dogs Understand What People Say?

Pet owners can teach their dogs to sit. Maybe you yourself have taught your pet dog to sit When you say the command word, your dog follows, right? So, that would mean that it can understand what you are saying.

A dog can know to shake hands when it hears the command word. It knows to lay down when it hears the cue word. So how does he understand what you say?

Chihuahua puppy
Carolin de Verdier / Flickr

First, he understands what you say through word association. You’ve guided your dog into doing something when it hears the command word. That’s how it processes the language it hears.

Second, he understands what you say through rewards. Your dog is smart to know that when it does some specific action whenever it hears the command word, you will give out a treat or reward. So it will respond accordingly as long as it knows there is a reward.

So don’t be surprised if it doesn’t do anything even if you’ve given a command word already. Maybe you don’t have a treat in hand. Or maybe, it doesn’t like the reward that you’re offering to give.

Can Dogs Understand Full Sentences?

We know that dogs can recognize command words or phrases. But can it understand full sentences and long talks? It seems that dogs cannot understand everything you are saying. But it can pick up important keywords, especially when it hears those keywords from you.

Sophie Idsinga / Flickr

For instance, your dog may not understand you when you say, “It’s time for us to go for a walk.” But, it can pick up the word ‘walk’ and ‘go’. And so, it can perk up and head for the door, way ahead of you.

So, just now we learned that while dogs can’t understand full sentences, it can pick up keywords that you repeat often.

We should also mention that the third way your dog can understand what you say is through the tone that you use. Even though it couldn’t grasp a full-on sentence, when it hears an excited tone, it knows something positive is happening. It’s probably time to go for a walk or play outdoors.

Does Your Dog Connect Human Language with Body Language?

Yes, it does. Body language is actually the fourth way your dog can understand what you say. When you point outdoors and talk excitedly, it knows that you’re going for a stroll in the streets. When you point to its kennel and talk angrily, it knows that it’s grounded.

Final Thoughts

It’s interesting to think about how our dogs can understand the human language even when it can’t really grasp every word you are saying. So don’t feel embarrassed whenever you chat with your dog as you do with people. They can process human language too.

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  1. My standard poodle would shake his head yes or no when asked if he wanted this or that. So I clipped our female SP’ tail hair very short ani I asked him if he wanted me to clip his as well. He backed a step and shook his head no. I said are you sure? He barked. So that’s a rather complicated transaction. In the morning they both would hop on my bed. I would kiss Nigel first and say good morning, then Ruby. Ruby would verbalize “my momma” quite clearly every morning. I miss both of them terribly.

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