We've all seen the videos: that adorable, squishy Husky whining, "AHH RUHHH YOUU!" Obviously, we want to believe that pup is saying "I love you" to its human. As much as we'd like to think that our pups are capable of communicating their feelings to us through speech, it's hard not to wonder whether dogs can really talk.
We're going to dive right into the subject and see what observation, science and dog owners themselves have to say on the subject.
Signs You Dog Understands Communication
Science has proven that dogs don't have the necessary pronunciation abilities to fully talk. For instance, try saying "my dog rocks" without using your lips and tongue. However, dogs are still very intelligent creatures and are able to understand and communicate with humans through other means.
Cues like pointing, direction of gaze, and hidden treats are all means of communicating that dogs are able to follow. Your pup may even stare at you if more information is needed to understand what is being asked. Studies have even shown that as dogs get older, their success at understanding human cues gets better.
Although dogs are not able to communicate with humans through talking, there are other ways our pups communicate with us! And that being said, they do mimic us as closely as they can.
The Science Behind Talking Dogs
Scientists have concluded that what we consider dogs "talking" is actually more like dogs imitating their owners. Dogs are fully capable of vocalizing with each other to convey feelings or emotions. Dogs can do this by varying their tones with whines or growls. Similarly, dogs are able to imitate human tones because they are able to pick up on the differences in our pitches and tonal patterns.
Simply put, a human hears their pup making a sound that we recognize as a word or phrase. The human proceeds to say the "phrase" back to their dog, who then repeats the sound and is rewarded (with treats and "good boys"). Eventually, the dog has learned a modified version of the original sound that was made.
Although dogs are not able to communicate with humans through speech, studies have shown that dogs are able to communicate with humans through growls and barks. For example, a growl let out during a game of tug-of-war is shorter than a growl let out when facing a threat.
In one study, forty volunteers listened to recordings of different growls. These recordings were from 18 different dogs that were guarding their food, facing a threat, or playing a tug-of-war game. The volunteers were able to correctly identify 63% of the growl samples - significantly more than would be expected by simply guessing.
Even further, the volunteers correctly identified 81% of the play-time growls but were less good at recognizing the food-guarding and threat-facing growls. These results indicate that humans are able to understand, and ultimately, appropriately respond to the vocal noises that come from dogs.
Training Your Dog to Talk
Although dogs are not able to communicate with humans using speech, there is hope that in the future artificial intelligence can be used to assist dogs with speaking. Using artificial intelligence, scientists have been able to translate animal vocalizations, facial expressions, and body movements into something more concrete so that humans can understand.
Looking at technological advancement trends, some believe that in at least 10 years we may have a translator for our pooches. Although still in the early stages, researchers believe they will be able to take thousands of videos of dog behaviors to teach artificial intelligence specific algorithms to recognize human interpretations of the communications.
There are still big differences between human and dog cognition, so we may not be able to fully understand one another. But that doesn't mean we won't be able to forge a stronger bond with our pets. Soon enough, you may really know just how much Skipper loves you.
By Olivia Gerth
Published: 03/18/2018, edited: 04/06/2020