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Do Dogs Understand Words?

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Do Dogs Understand Words?

When you talk to your dog, does he cock his head as if he is really listening to what you are telling him? Do dogs understand words? Pet expert Arden Moore writes that dogs understand your voice tone more than the actual words to gauge if you are delivering praise or discipline. Try this test. Stiffen your muscles, grab a telephone book, and begin to call out the names alphabetically in a stern, low tone in front of him. Watch his response. I bet he will glance your way, crouch down, and move away from you almost as if to say, “I can tell you’re angry and Im not sure why.”

Now repeat the exercise, but this time, relax your muscles, sit on the floor, and call out the names in thephone book in a cheery, musical tone. Watch what he does. He will probably race over to you with a circular wag and a happy, open-mouth grin and try to give you kisses.

The same words spoken in a different tone elicit different reactioins from your dog. Although tone matters more, many dogs do understand specific words and phrases. That’s because we have been consistent when speaking these words followed by a particular action.

Next: Rico the Wonder Dog

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Dogs, Pets

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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2:53AM PDT on Jun 19, 2013


2:41AM PDT on Jun 19, 2013

Of course they do! Thanks for sharing :)

10:41PM PDT on Aug 26, 2011

my dog understands everything i say. she's a great listener.

1:42AM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

And whats not mentioned is when they act like they dont understand, like when you say "Bathtime" and the slink off under the bed! I remember after I adopted Paradise our dog (now passed) and in a sentence to someone else I said the word biscuit and her ears popped up, I said it again and she got really excited, whoever had owner her before taught her that word. They do pick up words when you say things to others, they are very smart and have their own complex methods of communicating as well. Its amazing that some humans thinks words are the apex of communicator and the benchmark for superiority - ego!!!

3:45AM PDT on Jul 15, 2011

Great article. Thank you for this.

2:19PM PDT on Jul 13, 2011

Thanks for sharing.

11:12PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

I've tested my dogs by saying the same sentence in many different tones, volumes, speeds, and at different times of day, and they understood what I was saying every time. They know the WORDS and the tone.

10:27AM PDT on Jun 27, 2011


1:05AM PDT on Jun 23, 2011

Animals understand WORDS. I have cats - when I say - Who wants to eat - they run to the kitchen. When I say - Who wants to go out - they run to the back door. Almost the exact words said in the exact tone of voice and they know the difference.

10:27PM PDT on Jun 21, 2011

I believe we have only scratched the surface when it comes to learning the capabilities of animals' brains. Dogs do possess phenominal strengths related to dealing with diseases eg smelling cancer, snuggling up to people on their death bed and many more.

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