Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Can dogs understand us?

Have you ever wondered if your dog knows what you were saying? We are able to teach them commands but how much do they understand. When we call out their name do they recognise it as their name or do they see it as another word for come? Do they know the meaning of the word no or just the tone that we use when we say it?

According to the scientist, Dr. Roger Abrantes, dogs both understand humans and don’t understand humans. Dogs do not understand language the way we do. While they do know certain words they don’t understand sentences. They can pick up words from a sentence such as ‘walk’ or ‘vet’. Abrantes also states that tone is very important. The word ‘no’ must always be said in a harsh tone so that the dog can learn not to do it again. In the same way, when to praise a dog it must be said in a sweet tone.

Studies have found that the avenge dog knows a hundred and sixty-five words. There will be a few exceptions to this. As my old dog, a Jack Russel Terrier named Roy Boy only knew the words ‘stay’, ‘no’ and ‘outside’. I don’t even know if he knew his own names as you could say anything and he would come to you. As for my current dog, Rose who is also a Jack Russel Terrier, she knows the same word that Roy did as well as her own name and ‘sit’. Of course, the expectations appear at the other end of the scale. Meet Chaser an eleven-year-old Border Collie that knows one thousand words!  Brian Hare the Duke University animal-intelligence researcher has referred to this dog “as the most scientifically important dog in over a century”.

But what about how we understand dogs? Dogs communicate through body language. A wagging tail shows excitement and happiness while a tail between the legs is fear. Dogs also respond to our body language as well. As well as smells. Dogs are able to pick up on our emotion by different scents that our body releases. Dogs are also so of the best judges of character. Once when I was working my dog, she had a bad reaction to an old man once. She showed my fear then I have even seen. After I told my mum about it, she told me that if Rose ever had a reaction like that again I was to run in the opposite direction.

Dogs are more intelligent than we give them credit for. They have a basic understand of the words in our languages just not grammar.


Abrantes, V. (2014). Do Dogs Understand What We Say?. [online] Ethology Institute Cambridge. Available at: [Accessed 30 Apr. 2016].

Animal Planet. (2012). Can dogs understand what we say?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2016].

Chaser the border collie. (2016). Chaser the border collie. [online] Available at:!chaser/c1j55 [Accessed 30 Apr. 2016]. (2016). 15 Amazing Things Your Dog Can Sense About You | Dog Notebook. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 May 2016].

The Bark. (2016). Do Dogs Understand Our Words?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Apr. 2016].

Pilley, J. and Pilley, J. (2016). Meet the Dog Who Knows 1,000 Words. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Apr. 2016].


2 comments on “Can dogs understand us?

  1. flickgordon
    May 8, 2016

    I found your blog very interesting. It was great to learn what dogs can and cannot understand and it will assist in people attempting to train dogs.
    I found a scientific experiment conducted in 2013, where a dogs understanding of videos was analysed. Much like you explanation of dogs understanding words but no whole sentences, dogs can extract, memorize, and retrieve certain patches of information from a video. These patches in the video were locations where treats were hidden within a room. They could not understand the video as a whole, similarly to how they cannot understand whole sentences.
    I wonder what else dogs can understand, such as specific actions like hugging or even music.

    Peter, A, Miklosi, A, Pongracz, P, Manser, M 2013, ‘Domestic dogs’ (Canis familiaris) understanding of Projected Video Images of a Human Demonstrator in an Object-choice Task’, Ethology, Vol. 119, no. 10, pp898-906, doi: 10.1111/eth.12131.


  2. tjdunkle
    May 8, 2016

    You bring up some very interesting points especially how dogs communicate through body language. I find that with my dog she responds very much to tone of voice, where you talk to her in an excited tone, she too will become excited. Not only do I find tone to be important, I also find who she is with will influence her actions. From a puppy I would make she we stopped at each road and looked to see if traffic is there, a habit that she still follows when walking with me. However when walking with my parents who do not stop at roads, she will continue on with her walking. Not only does she understand that I want her to stop, she also knows that different people have different expectations of her.
    Through some time on the Internet I found an interesting article that explained how humans and dogs influence each other’s oxytocin levels ( Oxytocin is known as the love drug and is involved with social behaviour, trust and maternal behaviour. Simply by having dog and its owner gaze into each other’s eyes, oxytocin levels increase in both dog and human. So when I get excited, my dog also gets excited which I think is a very important bond. It’s amazing how humans and dogs interact, they are very caring creatures and I’m glad they can understand some of what I am saying.


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This entry was posted on May 5, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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