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
Rico the Wonder Dog
In a 2005 study published in Science, German researchers reported that Rico, a Border collie, comprehends more than 200 words–a vocabulary size similar to that of trained apes, dolphins, and parrots. Rico can fetch at least 200 objects by name and seems able to expand his word knowledge bank.
Rico’s ability to learn new words is explained by a process known as fast mapping. This technique allows dogs to form a quick and rough hypothesis about he meaning of a new word after a single exposure to the item in question. The experimenters sent Rico into a room that contained eight items, seven of which were familiar to him. Rico did not know the name of the eighth object, but in seven out of ten tests, he appropriately retrieved a different novel item.
Excerpted from The Dog Behavior Answer Book (Storey, 2006) by Arden Moore.