Home Leisure & Lifestyle Can Your Dog Understand You? Expert Reveals 3 Common Behaviours to Watch For

Can Your Dog Understand You? Expert Reveals 3 Common Behaviours to Watch For

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As a pet owner, it’s only natural to want to find ways to communicate with your dog, with a recent TikTok trend highlighting the popular tactic of speaking their favourite words to them to see their response. 

After using said trend to reveal the top 10 words that get dog’s tails wagging the most, the experts at Animal Friends Pet Insurance have shared what your pooches’ response to hearing their favourite words might mean. 

Can our pets understand us when we speak to them?

Searches for can dogs understand human language (+133%) have increased in popularity over the past 12 months, demonstrating a desire for pet owners to get to the bottom of this age-old question.

While pet parents will be aware that dogs have the ability to respond to certain cues, unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as them understanding what we’re saying and the specific meaning behind the word(s). 

Catrin George, animal wellbeing specialist at Animal Friends Pet Insurance, explains: “There are a number of factors that come into play when talking about a dog’s recognition and understanding, with many debating the extent of their abilities.

“One explanation could be that they have associated the word with a particular action over a period of time, for example, hearing the word walk while their owner is picking up their lead. Or, it could be that they’re responding to the tone and pitch in which the word was spoken, as well as the speaker’s body language when saying it.

“The most important thing is that each dog is different, and ultimately, owners should be encouraged to find their own way of connecting and communicating with their pet in a positive way.” 

What could their response be telling us? 

When thinking about how dogs communicate with their owners, our furry friends will often try different signals until they feel understood. Some of the ways that they will try to engage when we interact with them, include:

Head tilt 

If your dog responds to your chatter with a head tilt, it can be an indication that there is an interest in what you’re saying to them. Dogs will instinctively move their heads from side to side when concentrating on sounds, for example, their owner’s voice, which can indicate that they’re trying to understand what’s been said in their own way, or decipher an unfamiliar command or trick. 

Catrin expands: “This is where word association can play out in real-time. For example, if every time you say walk to your pet in a certain tone or pitch, while also carrying out an action such as walking towards the door or picking up their lead, your dog will be able to recognise this, and choose to respond with a head tilt, as their way of confirming what’s about to happen.”

Open mouth grin

This tends to occur as a result of a dog’s ability to understand that smiling is a common sign of happiness in their owner. Similar to laughter contagion in humans, when someone smiles at their dog, for example, when repeating words they know their pooch enjoys, the dog will respond with an open mouth grin, somewhat resembling a “smile”. 

Catrin continues: “It’s important to note here that this doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog will be smiling at the specific words that were said (although that could be possible), instead, they have learnt what response will create a positive reaction from their owner, and will be responding to make them happy.”

Tail wagging 

When a dog wags its tail, it means they’re reacting to a particular scenario and attempting to show you how they feel. To understand what their response could be telling you, you need to observe the position of their tail and the speed of the wag⁶. 

Catrin shares what to look out for: “A happy wagging tail tends to be positioned slightly upright, and will move at a moderate speed from side to side, getting quicker the more excited they become. Whereas, if they’re feeling curious about what you’re saying, their tail might be held straight out with a slight wagging movement.” 

To find out more about the research, including the list of dog’s favourite words, click here. Or to see (adorable) Animal Friends Pet Insurance pooches put the trend to the test, head over to TikTok

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