“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
– A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh.
Dogs have all sorts of amazing qualities. They greet us after we come home from a long day’s work, guard us against danger, and become the most affectionate companions for life. Perhaps the best of all is that they have tons of ways to communicate with us. If you think your dog is able to understand you and talk to you, you’re not wrong!
So, can dogs talk? Well, in a sense, yes. Although, dogs don’t talk in the literal sense. So, to answer the question “Can dogs talk?” we have to understand that they don’t use words and sentences to communicate with us. Their language is the combination of their bark and body language. For example, if your dog wants something from you, they may bark at you continuously. But if they are frustrated or stressed, they might have a high pitched whine. And we are communicating right back at them too, without us even realizing it.
Here is everything you need to know about dogs, their language, and their way of communication with humans.
You might also be interested in “Do dogs have feelings?”
Table of Contents
Can Dogs Understand Humans?
Have you ever thought that your pooch is actively listening to you talk and making sense of everything you’re saying? Turns out, dogs do understand humans. Their brain processes speech much like human brains do.
A group of researchers in Hungary conducted a study with 12 very active Border collies, Golden retrievers, and a German shepherd. They were put into an fMRI test where the researchers murmured simple human words (removing conjunctions and phrases like “as if”, “even though”) in different tones and volumes. By the end of it, the researchers found that the dog’s brain could not only recognize every speech but process emotional meaning and the literal meaning separately too.
How Do Dogs Talk/Communicate with Humans?
Dogs communicate with humans using an intricate system of body language and vocalization.
Body language: Body language is the way your dog uses eyes, ears, tails, and the body’s position to tell you something. The change in their body language is so subtle that it is very difficult even for an experienced dog owner to understand. Some of the frequently observed signals are:
- Eyes: Dogs express many things through their eyes. They will brighten up when the canine finds someone or something friendly and when they are scared, their pupils dilate.
- Ears: Ears are the prominent feature of understanding the dog’s body language. Perked ears mean that the dog is listening to you or is alert. If the ears are back, they are relaxed and/or offering submission.
- Tongue, and teeth: Dogs can do a lot with their mouth too. They will lick you all over and will even try to bite you playfully when they are really happy. Happy dogs also show their teeth like they are smiling (yes, dogs do smile).
- Tail: You might have seen your dog wagging their tail a lot. Dogs can be very expressive with their tail. A research shows that dogs wagging their left or right have different implications. You have to be able to read the signs.
- Face: Just like humans, dogs frown and wrinkle their foreheads when they are determined or confused.
Vocalization: Dogs barking doesn’t seem like any more than what it means, dogs making noise. But we have to understand that barking is their language, just like words are to us. They bark, growl, whine, whimper, and howl based on how they are feeling. Being vocal is their way of communicating with us. So, it is important that we recognize the type and what each sound means.
Dogs have a loud and repetitive bark if something is bothering them and they bark in monotone when bored. Whining is a high pitched noise that dogs make if they are frustrated or stressed. Howling is often found when dogs communicate with other dogs rather than humans. Some dogs also howl if they are troubled. One sound that you should take seriously is growling. Dogs make a low guttural sound that indicates hostility. This is a sign that your dog is very angry, or in pain. Growling in dogs indicates an underlying problem.
A research in Cross-species referential signaling in domestic dogs concludes that dogs use about 19 different signals to communicate. Dogs evolved from their wild side with the fascination and ability to love their human companion. So, if you really make an effort to observe and understand your dog’s signals and barks, your dog will meet you halfway too.
How Can You Talk to Your Dog?
We often say the most nonsensical things to our dogs. And that too, with our high pitched baby-like voice. Scientists say that our baby talk is actually a dog-directed speech. Dogs, especially puppies get excited and they respond more to our talk.
A research published in the Proceeding of the Royal Society B concludes that our dog-directed speech grasps the puppies’ attention and they respond to us based on our tone. During the research, puppies and adult dogs of all ages were made to listen to recordings of humans saying sentences in different pitches and tones. The dogs were found responding most to the high pitched, baby-like voice.
Furthermore, a research on Animal Cognition also shows that dogs prefer dog-directed speech. Dogs can easily identify our tone and can tell when we are happy, sad, or angry. That’s why baby talk is the most efficient with dogs because the tone shows affection and love.
Importance of Non-Verbal Communication with Dogs
Dogs respond to sign languages as much as spoken languages. There are deaf dogs and deaf humans, who communicate well and form an equally strong bond with each other. Dogs observe and learn our body language too and will respond accordingly. And as dogs have a strong sense of smell, they can smell the chemicals humans release when we are sad, tired, sick, or happy.
Humans can also understand what the dog is trying to say through smell. Their scent of urination and anal glands can mean that they are nervous, fearful, or in their heat cycle.
Why Is Understanding What Your Dog Says So Important?
Understanding what your dog has to say is an important aspect when it comes to building a good relationship with your pet. Often times, we blame our dogs for their behavioral problems when it can be us failing to understand what our dogs are trying to say. We think they are not listening to us, but maybe it’s us who are not listening to them. So, it is important that we observe their signals and communicate with them properly. This way training can be effective and the bond between us and our furry companions becomes strong too.
Can Dogs Talk to Each Other?
Yes. Dogs have their own way of communicating with each other. They use their body language and sound to show signs and signals to fellow dogs.
Marc Bekoff, a biologist and author of Animal Passions and Beastly Virtues, has mentioned some ways that dogs can communicate with each other:
- Paw slap: Paw slap is exactly like your friend coming up and giving you a pat on your back. It’s dogs’ way of telling each other, ‘Let’s play’.
- Raising hind legs: If your dog rears upon their hind legs, it is a sign of affection. It can also be taken as a sign of playfulness.
- Biting: Although your dog biting on another dog looks scary, there is nothing to worry about. Your dog is only being playful.
The Future of Dog Language
Scientists have been researching ways of canine communication and language comprehension for a long time. Dogs are one of the most communicative animals, along with parrots, elephants, and chimpanzees. Today, dog owners are able to read their dog’s basic signals such as wagging of the tail, howling, and expressions of their puppy eyes. Scientists are looking further than that by studying possibilities for dogs to communicate more effectively. Dr. Ian Pearson, futurologist, has anticipated that by 2050, dogs will be able to use an adapted form of technology to talk to their humans, just like humans do. Who knows, maybe your dog will be the one calling you lazybones in the near future!
Dogs can talk, just not in the same way humans do. Their body language and sound can tell you a lot if you observe carefully and try to understand them. Once you get their way of communication, the special bond that you share with your furry best friend can reach a whole new level.
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