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Okay so we know that dogs can respond to particular commands, but the question “does my dog understand me” becomes a little bit more relevant when we try to figure out how much pets actually comprehend when we talk to them. When you talk to your dog, a tail wag, bark or arching of their back can signify some degree of understanding. You might not be too far off the mark if you feel like talking to your pet is engaging in some degree of meaningful conversation.
As it turns out, some dogs have been found to understand and respond accurately to up to 200 words which means that dogs are quite a trainable bunch. Naturally, if you are looking at having a conversation with your pet you should aim to have discussions like “go fetch the stick” over intangible discussions about philosophy. The trick with teaching your dog new words is selecting phrases that are easily associated with particular actions or things. Your pet is much more likely to know what you are talking about if you point at a tree and say “run to the tree” than if you were to say “run to the left” – left being quite an abstract human concept. It is important to remember that they can remember places but the places have a stronger position in their memory because they are related to actions that the dog can take like going for a run in the park.

Dogs seem to relate information through tonality as well. If you say something nasty in a sweet sounding tone your dog has the potential to feel as though you are treating them kindly. This is probably not a trick that you want to play on your pet too often but it shows how much of an effect you can have by using tonality when praising your favourite family member.

Whilst cats don’t necessarily treat humans differently to other cats, dogs differentiate themselves from humans and communicate with each other using a range of verbal and non-verbal methods that they don’t necessarily use when communicating with their human friends. Dr. Beymer finds that body language, behavior and pheromone information are more powerful methods of communication between dogs than actual verbal cues. It also seems that behaviour is also context specific. So barking at you playfully when you are dancing their favourite toy around is completely different to barking nervously at another dog in the park. Knowing how your dog communicates can assist you in knowing how to respond to their needs more effectively. Unfortunately, we aren’t quite equipped to communicate with our dogs with the level of depth that dogs communicate with one another. A dog’s anal sac creates pheromones depending on the animal’s particular state. Human noses thankfully don’t have the range to be able to be used as a tool for talking to our dogs.