Can Dogs Understand Languages?
Dog Owners Love To Talk To Their Pets.
They speak to them almost all the time — from commanding them to sit to sharing our inmost thoughts to them.
Though we feel like they understand us or we want to believe they understand what we are saying, do they really know what we are talking about? Can dogs really understand languages?
Traditionally, the common belief is that dogs can understand languages but just in a different manner. Let me explain further.
Dogs Memorize Sound Rather Than The Words We Speak
No matter what language you use, whether English or Chinese, once a dog learns what a certain word means for you and them, they would eventually memorize it and do what you expect them to do.
Take for example the word, “sit.” During training, dogs hear this word many times. For them, it is simply a sound, but since you trained them to sit by saying “sit,” they would then respond based on the sound of what they hear rather than what the word actually means.
They Use Your Words As A Cue To Doing Something
That’s why even if you use other words other than “sit,” you can still command your dog to sit down as long as you have already established what a particular word should mean to them.
For a dog to understand a word or language, they need to take into consideration the whole circumstance that surrounds the situation. This means that they won’t only listen to what you are saying, but also to what you are doing.
When you combine verbal and non-verbal cues, your dog understands you better. That’s why in training dogs, you don’t simply tell them, “sit,” but you also move your hands so they could better understand until they get your verbal cues without any non-verbal cues.
In some cases, dogs may understand you but simply ignore you. They may know very well what you mean by what you said, but if the consequences of not following you isn’t dire enough, the reward you’re giving isn’t interesting and they have something better to do, then they won’t follow. This doesn’t mean that they don’t understand. They simply think it’s not worth doing what you want him to do.
Your Tone Matters
Another aspect that you should not forget about how dogs process our language is the tone of our words and how we deliver it.
Dogs can detect emotions from the tone of our voice. That’s why if you scold your dog in a gentle manner, they might not feel that you’re actually scolding them and perhaps, they would even repeat the same unpleasant behavior thinking that you’re praising him.
When you praise your dog for good behavior but don’t use a sweet tone, it won’t have an effect on your dog. Even if you use the nicest words, they would most likely not feel being praised.
In 2016, there was a study published in the Science journal. The study is about seeing how dogs process human language. Academics in Hungary were able to do an MRI scan on dogs while speaking to them.
They discovered that the dog’s brain processes language in a similar way we process language. The right side of their brain deals with emotion while their left brain deals with meaning.
So, every time we speak to our dog, both sides of their brain will try to process our words. During the study, researchers use the words “good boy” in a neutral voice. They then observed how the left brain is activated. However, when they say “good boy” in praising intonation, both sides of the brain are active. The opposite happens when researchers use meaningless words to them such as “however.” It didn’t activate the right nor the left side of the brain.
This study suggests that the tone of our voice plays a great role in how our dogs understand us. That’s why, even if we say we are okay, our dog can still sense whether we are sad or angry because they don’t just focus on the words we say, but also on how we say it.
Now, if you ask again if dogs understand languages, the answer is yes and no. Yes, because they may understand what we want them to do. No, because the human language is way more complicated than their ability to process words and sentences. Nevertheless, use this understanding to better your relationship with your dog.