How Dogs Respond To Human Language


New Member
Some of you may know I am doing a speech about dog-human communication and part of this speech is talking about how does understand human language and verbal cues. I have done researched but am getting different view points and not really concise information. Do you guys know of any good websites that have information on this topic? or do you know anything about it?



Honored Member
where is the other thread on this very same topic?

i do think, some of us responding on the other thread, thought you were interested in understanding A DOG'S language..........sorry.

thing is, much of dog language is open to some interpretation, it is not always hard science, and context matters sometimes. Some dog signals always mean the same thing, from one dog to the next, for example, a growl is always a warning. (about what, can vary from dog to dog, or from one situation to another, but the dog IS giving a warning when he growls)

EDIT: well, nope, my dog growls at my guy (never me, but at my guy) when they play tug toy. Buddy is not giving a warning, he is just playing, so context matters.......

There are dog signals that most dog experts agree mean this or that,
but, not all the cues are in complete agreement by all the experts. so "concise" might go out the window, when one has to add in all the possible situations where a dog "word" might mean something else from one situation to another.

and re: what the dog thinks various human words mean,
can vary from one home to another. My dog thinks "beer" means "speak", for example.:ROFLMAO:

and that is easy enough to prove, that dogs DO understand human cues and words, if you have a video cam.


Honored Member
//"...........and part of this speech is talking about how does understand human language and verbal cues. "//

this is easy. Video your dog doing a trained trick. The dog can prove, he DOES understand your word to perform his trained trick.

i myself do NOT think any dog knows any human word, unless he is taught, whether formally ("rollover")
or informally through association of the word + event. ("go bye bye").


Honored Member
so, you are looking for links,
which lists human words that dogs DO understand?

but, that will vary, from one dog to another, and from one country to another,
as dogs are taught what a word means by it's owner.


Honored Member
Staff member
This is not through any "scientific" evidence of any kind, but personally it makes a lot of sense to think that a dog doesn't really know the definition of "sit." They just know that when you say it, and they perform a behavior, they get rewarded for it. You could just as easily teach your dog to spin in a circle when you tell them "sit." They don't know the word's definition, they just know that when you ask for a down they don't get rewarded for speaking, but when they lie down they get rewarded. When you ask for a spin, they don't get rewarded for retrieving their ball, but they get rewarded for spinning. So in this simple way of thinking about it, the most obvious conclusion is that it's all about what's rewarded and what's not. Yes, they do develop a connection of this word=this behavior, but if your dog could talk and you asked him what something meant, he wouldn't really know. If you asked him what "Shake" meant, he'd probably tell you, "Well I paw at you when you tell me that and you give me treats." (Assuming he had the vocabulary to form that sentence! :) ) So it's really all about conditioning a response in your dog. They don't necessarily "understand" the word itself in the human sense of the word "understand," but they understand that they get rewarded for certain behaviors when certain sounds(words) are made.

Not to insult human intelligence at all, but really the same could be done with a person, except that people have the ability to form and comprehend definitions. Let's say I made up a word for an object, let's say it's "THERIGANDUM," and therigandum happens to refer to a bright yellow stapler. If I walk up to you and say, "Bring me the therigandum," you won't have a clue what I'm talking about until I give you more information as to what it is. Kind of like the "I Spy" game--which could be translated into how you get the behavior from your dog (luring, shaping, etc). You'll ask what the heck I'm talking about(the lapse in time where your dog tries to determine what you want), and I'll give you a clue. "Well, it's yellow" (treat brought to dog's nose). You'll look around, and then ask for another clue. "Well, it's yellow and somewhat rectangular." (treat at dog's nose and lured into sit) You'll look around, and ask for another clue. "Well, it's yellow, somewhat rectangular, and attaches multiple pieces of paper together with a metal clasp." You find the bright yellow stapler and bring it to me. (Aha! Dog sits.) "That's exactly what I needed, thanks!" (Click and reward.) The next time I ask for the therigandum, you'll respond much quicker, and eventually because I've rewarded you in some way(thanking you) for bringing the item I had in mind, you'll know that when I ask for the therigandum you'll be rewarded if you bring the yellow stapler.

That all may sound silly, but that's the best analogy I can think of. Not sure if this helps you or not. O_o


Experienced Member
This isn't entirely scientific but it might give you something else to reference.
The whole thing is on youtube, they start talking about human body language and dogs around 4 minutes in.


Honored Member
by the way, i'm dense at times, but i am not 100% sure if Sunflower's topic is about how humans communicate to dogs, ("words that dogs know")
or how dogs communicate to humans.

or both?

I've seen that series on tv, in the past, maybe on science channel, or nat'l geographic, or animal channel,(?) but I LOVED IT, Rouen, i did not know i could watch it all again on youtube! AWESOME!!! The pointing part is fun to watch, eh?


Honored Member
Re the dog in that video who can pick out toys by name, (i have a photo of THAT SAME dog framed over my washer and dryer, which is, a "border collie theme" room!:ROFLMAO: that dog was once on the cover of a Nat'l Geographic magazine, someone brought me that magazine, since they knew Buddy can find toys by name, i ripped off the cover, and framed it, and tell ppl it is MY dog, ha ha!!)
i think LOTS of dogs can learn to do that!! (pick out toys by name)


Experienced Member
I love those videos too. They're in my favs list on youtube so I can find them.
For verbal communication, the dog with the toys would be a good example.