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4 Effective Ways to Communicate With Your Dog

Updated: May 27, 2020

We may think that we can’t “speak dog”, but in reality, our communication with pets is very advanced as they can perceive certain words, tone of voice, body language, and even our emotions through the leash.


Even though dogs are not capable of processing or understanding full sentences, they are able to associate words with simple meanings. In fact, dogs are capable of learning 165 words or more. For example, dogs can learn to associate the vocal commands “sit”, “stay”, or “roll over” with the actions of those instructions. We train them to respond to these commands, that give our pets more structure and boundaries that positively affect their relationship to their owners. Although dogs can recognize words and associate them to commands, they cannot develop contextual understanding. The word “no” can be frustrating and confusing for both the pet and owner because the dog isn’t able to detect what the owner is referring to. Instead of commanding “no”, next time try “leave it” or “stay.” 


Pets are incredibly perceptive to the tone of human voices as a way to understand what we are saying. Even though they cannot understand complex language, they are very perceptive to what that language implies through tone. When an owner returns home and has excitement in their voice, a dog can easily pick up on the happy tone. If a dog has misbehaved and it’s owner gets mad, the dog can hear anger and frustration, and understand by associating tone with action. Furthermore, dogs can easily understand the difference in complex emotions and vocal tones such as fear versus anger. This is part of why certain breeds make excellent rescue and support animals. 

Body Language 

Dogs may not be able to understand sign language, but they can understand our gestures and associate a command with the visual. To a dog, the action of clapping hands together instantly grabs their attention due to the sound, motion, and vibrations that they know to respond to. Also, dogs can perceive that pointing is another direction command that they can follow. For example, if an owner points to a ripped up pillow on the ground that the dog is obviously responsible for, along with tone and words, through body language the dog will know why the owner is mad.  


According to Rover.com, “The leash may be one of the most powerful tools of dog-human communication. Dogs are masters of reading our emotions and the leash is like a direct conduit between our brains and bodies and theirs.” If an owner is stressed, the dog can immediately feel that from the tautness of the leash. If an owner is relaxed, the leash will become loose. This is why it seems like pets’ behavior can worsen instead of improve as they perceive their owners' negative or anxious emotions. 

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