We all talk to our dogs. “You’re such a good boy! Yes, you are! Who’s a good boy? You are!” and sometimes, “Hey, YOU! I see you! Don’t even think about it!” Our furry pals obviously understand what we are trying to tell them 99% of the time, but how are they interpreting our words into a language they can understand?
Do dogs speak English?
To be clear, dogs do not understand English or any other human language. However, they do understand sounds, not the words themselves. For example, the sound of the word “sit”, after it’s been used many times, will be associated with the action of sitting as well as the consequences of not sitting. You’ll notice that most dogs have a difficult time following even well-practiced commands when there is a lot of competing stimuli.
They also do not understand sentences. Even though it may seem like asking your dog, “do you want to eat breakfast” sends them into a tizzy, it is more than likely that the word “breakfast” is the only word in that sentence that is creating that response. Next time you offer your pet breakfast try out a nonsensical sentence with the word breakfast at the end like, “mushy moo street breakfast?”
How about the way we say things?
Tone elicits a response more than the actual sounds. This can be proven easily by just talking to your dog in an excited voice. You don’t even have to say anything that would be exciting for your dog. Try telling your dog about your chores in a jovial voice. “Today we’re going to do the dishes!! And sweep the house!!” Your dog will probably have the same reaction he would if you told him you were taking him to the dog park in a similar tone.
Dogs respond to body language above all other types of communication. This is why “doggy sign language” training is so successful. You can easily implement this into your established training by coming up with decisive and straightforward signs to use every time you command your dog. An easy one to start with is, “sit & wait”. You can do this with a number of signs, but the easiest is pointing downward and then putting your open palm in front of you. Make sure to verbalize your commands at the same time for better understanding.