Do dogs really understand what we say or is it wishful thinking on our part, as their human guardians, in hoping they can translate from English to Dog?
My last Cocker Spaniel knew over 150 words and we even tested her, with fun and frivolity, from the comfort of home via doggie IQ book. Does this mean I think she was a genius? No. Does it mean she was “smarter than your average dog”, to paraphrase Yogi Bear, well… yes.
Does your dog ever cock his or her head to the side when talking to them? We know they are hearing us, but is the head cock a reaction to the actual word or to the intonation of our voice? Sometimes I will say, “Dexter you are such a stinky dog and really need a bath, dirty boy!” I say it, however, with a very Snow White and sing-song voice, which elicits a super fast tail wag and happy look in his eyes. However, if I say the same thing with a very monotone voice, my dog slithers away behind the couch because he knows a b-a-t-h is coming.
Amazingly, a 2005 study that was published in Science magazine, German researchers revealed that Rico, a Border collie, is able to understand and comprehend over 200 words. As a point of comparison, that is the average vocabulary of animals like parrots, dolphins, and trained apes.
Can dogs understand what we say?
Over the years, even such esteemed publications like Psychology Today, have tackled the topic: Can dogs understand what we say?
Is it all in a name? Dogs certainly do not call each other by name nor do they remember things like, “hey there’s Sparky” or “can I go see Rover?” If you ask my dog, Dexter, “Where’s Mommy,” he runs to me. He also knows my neighbor’s dog, Zola, my neighbor, Ellen, and a host of other people. If there are 10 of us in a room, he runs to the person we verbalize. Not bad for a pooch, right?
Can your dog distinguish toys? Many a pet parent has told me over the years that their dog(s) know the difference between ball, rope, penguin, ducky, and so on.
In an article for CNN, Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and leading researcher on dog behavior, shared, “They may not be Einsteins, but are sure closer to humans than we thought.”
So what do you think? Can your dog relate to what you say and how many words would you assess your dog “knows?” One thing is for certain: Dogs do tune in to what we say and how we say it. So smile when you talk to your dog: Their lives are short compared to ours and they hang on our every word and emotion.