If you own a dog, you know that they are well adept at sending and receiving body language signals to each other. Many signs include their posture, tails, play bow (invitation for another dog to play, via lowering their front paws literally as though they are “bowing”), submissive display of their under belly (rolling over to say “I’m o.k. with you”), head and eye gaze and also using their paws to emphasize their point.
Some of these signals transfer to you and your home, when your dog wants to communicate with you. Rolling over for a belly rub is a sign of total trust (and says “please pet me here because I love it”). Have you noticed when you stop petting your dog how they might “paw” you for more? As if to say “I’m not done with this massage”…consider how they “alert” you with general body movement to tell you what they want or what you need to know.
More fascinating than the observation of a dog’s body language, is their ability to communicate verbally. Not only are dog’s using a range of vocal signals (whining, barking, baying (hello Beagle), but in some cases, their own unique sounds (one I’ve heard often, yet can’t fully describe, which sounds like “row, row, row”). Not only can they communicate verbally with other dogs (knowing instinctively how to interpret the other dogs bark), they understand our words. Their cognitive abilities to interpret our body and spoken language, goes far beyond the obvious response to commands through training (sit, stay, down, come).
While we marvel at the highly-trained dogs used in the military, police, and therapy for the disabled, blind and sick, the average dog is inherently trained, from birth, to communicate with us through their innate instincts.
Notwithstanding the teaching of Chaser, an amazing Border Collie who understands 1000 words (see our earlier blog re: Unlocking-the-canine-mind-Chaser-leads-the-pack), dogs have proven their ability to understand what we are saying. It isn’t simply the intonation or clues we give out (the excited “wanna go for a walk”? voice we use, while also grabbing the leash as a visual clue as to what we are about to do). It’s so much more!
In the book “The Genius of Dogs”, by Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods, Brian talks about his own dog Oreo. Brian’s Dad decided it would be a great idea to get Oreo to fetch the Sunday paper from their long, steep driveway. His father simply brought Oreo to the end of the driveway, pointed at the paper and said “fetch paper”. When Oreo complied, he was praised. Within a week, Dad was standing at the top of the driveway, asking Oreo to “fetch paper” and Oreo knew what was wanted. Not only did Oreo understand the words, but also the initial gesture of pointing at the paper; applying cognitive inference as well. Dr. Hare’s early examination of Oreo’s cognitive abilities has launched a full-scale institute of canine cognition studies known as DOGNITION*
I highly encourage you to visit their site and “enroll” your dog in some of the in-home experimental games to gauge your own dog’s level of cognitive ability and intelligence. *Visit: https://www.dognition.com for fun, games and canine enlightenment.
To quote Dr. Hare: “Relative to other animals, it is the ability of dogs to understand human communication that is truly remarkable. Some dogs have the ability to learn hundreds of names for objects. They learn these names extremely rapidly through an inferential process of exclusion. They also spontaneously understand the category to which different objects belong. Some dogs even show understanding of the symbolic nature of human object labels. Dogs may truly understand words.”
As the owner of a cage-free boarding business, I can tell you, unequivocally, that I know dogs understand our words. I am not an expert nor possess any degrees in anthropological studies. I have simply had the pleasure of hosting and personally observing 100’s of dogs in my home over the past several years, which has now expanded to the homes of my hand-picked nannies that are also able to “talk dog”. The business name “Doolittle’s Doghouse”, came from Dr. Dolittle, a favorite child-hood movie. Yes, it is truly possible to “talk to the animals”, and the good news for us humans: dogs understand what we are saying and lovingly talk back. You need only to listen and pay attention!