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Can dogs understand language?

Can dogs understand language?

You may wonder if your dog can understand what you are saying. You probably notice they seem to understand certain words. If you say you are leaving, they may look sad. If you say a loved one is coming home, they may wag their tail excitedly. You may ask them if they are ready to go for a walk, and then watch them go to the door waiting expectantly. 

It’s clear that dogs can learn words, with most dogs having the capacity to learn between 150 and 200 words. Can they learn different languages as well? Can your dog understand words spoken in other languages? 

Can dogs understand language?

Dogs can learn words, similar to the way people do. They seem to use deductive reasoning and positive reinforcement to learn. For example, if you say “Is Fido hungry?”, while grabbing their food, they will probably decode the meaning of your words. Over time, they will learn the word food means they are going to be fed. We know dogs can learn words from one language, but can they understand multiple languages? 

The Dog Chaser

A Border Collie named Chaser holds the canine record for learning and understanding different words. She learned over 1,000 words, and she was able to understand them. She could even differentiate between verbs and nouns!

One of the demonstrations involved dog toys. She would retrieve each toy she was told to. This shows she knew the difference between objects like a fire truck and a toy steak. 

Even though Chaser is an exceptional case, most dogs have the ability to learn and understand many different words. The language the words are spoken in doesn’t matter. The dogs learn the sounds of the words, and associate them with their meaning. 

Do dogs understand different languages?

Human adults have a difficult time learning other languages. However, the same isn’t true for children. Children can easily grow up to learn to speak two or even three languages, because they learn them when their brains are still forming. Do dogs have the same ability? 

Language Isn’t a Barrier

You can’t teach your dog a word in English and expect them to understand the same word in German. A human who didn’t understand both languages wouldn’t be able to understand it either. However, you can teach them to sit in English and stay in German, and your dog will learn both of these words. 

Can I teach my dog commands in different languages?

The short answer is yes. Dogs are able to understand words in different languages. They arent’ concerned with things like syntax and spelling, so it’s fairly simple for them. 

They simply know that these sounds mean this thing. They aren’t aware of the language the word comes from. In fact, you can even make up words to use as commands. 

Teaching Your Dog Commands in Multiple Languages

The issue is that you need to choose one word for one meaning, particularly when you are using it for training. If you live in a multi-lingual household, it’s fine for your dog to understand two words for food and walk, for example. 

However, when it comes to commands, you want to choose one word and stick with it. You can easily choose one English command and one command in another language. What you shouldn’t do is to give your dog two different words for the command sit. This can confuse them. 

The Loophole

If you want to teach your dog to perform the same command in multiple languages, there is a way to do it. Dogs can understand nonverbal cues as well as they can verbal commands. You can easily combine the two. 

For example, when you say sit, you point to the ground. Over time, you will be able to point to the ground without giving the verbal command, and your dog will sit. 

Once your dog has the nonverbal cue down, you can use a different word as the command. Now, you’ll say sit in another language, while pointing to the ground. Your dog will learn to associate the new command with the action, because the nonverbal cue lets them know what to do. 

Pros and Cons of Multi-Lingual Canines

You can teach your dog commands in another language, but should you? There are some advantages as well as disadvantages to the practice. 

If your home is multi-lingual, teaching your dog commands in multiple languages can make sense. It can make it easier for members of your house to deliver commands. 

It can also provide your dog with mental stimulation. If you’ve gone through all the basic training commands, teaching the commands in another language provides useful mental exercise. It’s easy to forget that dogs need mental as well as physical exercise each day.

Another benefit of teaching commands in another language is that it can strengthen the bond between you and your dog. The focused time spent together and positive reinforcement is an excellent bonding experience. 

Some owners prefer using commands from another language because they don’t want other people to be able to issue commands to their dogs. If it’s a word that the average person doesn’t know, there’s less chance a stranger could utilize the command. 

 However, this is also the biggest downside to teaching your dog commands in another language. If you teach them a command in a different language and don’t train them in the command in your primary language as well, others will have a hard time giving the command. 

If your dog is cared for by a family member or a pet sitter, this can be problematic. Even boarding your dog when you go on vacation can be more difficult if your dog only knows commands in a foreign language. 

Are there languages dogs can understand easily?

Some languages are easier for your dog to understand than others. Hard consonants are easier for your dog than vowels, so languages with an emphasis on hard consonants can be helpful. 

German and French are popular choices for this reason. One study found that English police dogs actually learned commands easier in Polish than English, so Polish is a good option as well. 

Of course, English is spoken by many people around the world, so it shouldn’t be overlooked. 

When it comes to word recognition, just like a child, your dog will learn words they are frequently exposed to, regardless of the language they are from. 

Everyday Language? 

There are two schools of thought on using the language you speak most often for commands. Some believe that you should use the language you speak often, because these are the words the dog hears the most. 

The other camp says that it’s better to use words your dog doesn’t hear in everyday language. Then, when they hear them, they will know they are a command instead of just a conversation. 

Which way is best isn’t clear. However, if you are teaching your dog a command in a language you aren’t familiar with, you’ll need to get comfortable with it first. Be sure that you are pronouncing the word correctly before you start using it for training. If you change the way you pronounce the word, your dog may not recognize it as the same word.