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Experts: Your dog ‘gets’ you, he just doesn’t understand a word you say

Your dog learns about human meaning by observing your behaviour.
© Wokandapix - Pixabay

Dogs are deeply perceptive and interested in human behaviour, reckon experts – even if they understand fewer human words than you may think.

By G. John Cole, 23 Mar 2019

It’s easy to talk to a dog, because they seem sympathetic and have no capacity to share your secrets. But while that sympathy is absolutely genuine, the creatures stay mum not because they can’t speak, but because they don’t understand a word you say.

In fact, most dogs respond mainly to your tone of voice and gestures.

“Humans are compulsive anthropomorphisers - the attaching of human mental attributes to animals,” biological anthropologist Dr Sean O'Hara told Jake Massey at LadBible. “But, that's not always helpful when trying to understand what our pets are doing or want."

“They have different sensory perceptions to humans so our first task is to try to understand how they perceive the world. Once we can think about how they perceive the world we can then begin to ask what they know about their world.”

When dogs seem to respond to a certain word – such as ‘walkies’ – it’s because they’ve learned to associate that word with certain actions – such as going for a lovely walk.

And they tend to connect these messages with the four things they most want from us: food/water, a pee break, play, and snuggles. 

“If owners can learn to understand what their dog wants at a particular time,” continues Dr O’Hara, “it can be easy to induce that particular behaviour with an appropriate word or action. In other words, a dog that is expecting to be taken out at a particular time of day can be made to quickly get to its feet with only the slightest of invitations - verbal or non-verbal and perhaps only partially completed.”

“Don’t leave me”

O’Hara also notes that domestic dogs are relatively new to the human pattern of interaction – which is why many breeds suffer when they are left alone. They don’t really get the deal.

“Social isolation is therefore often problematic to them and they can experience anxiety due to separation,” he continues. “It's also true that with dogs being social animals they are likely to feel less secure in those times they are left in social isolation. Social animals have been shown to crave social contact when isolated more than food.”

And by the way, your dog may watch you when you’re having sex, but that doesn’t mean he’s judging you.

Dogs and other animals have few taboos over public shows of sensuality. But they’re certainly interested in what their people are up to – especially when new smells and fluids are involved.

Dr O’Hara calls this “social monitoring” – but try explaining that to your date!