5 min read


Can Dogs Learn to Speak?



5 min read


Can Dogs Learn to Speak?


"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem." ‚Äē A.A. Milne, author of¬† Winnie the Pooh.

If your dog could speak to you, what do you think your best friend would want to tell you? What would you want to know about your dog's feelings and experiences? Dogs do vocalize. They also communicate with their body language. 

Consider the many ways we bond and work with our dogs. They greet us when we come home, guard us, help us do our jobs, and assist persons with disabilities. How would that special bond we share with them be extended and intensified if your dogs could speak? Animal lovers believe that our humanity is improved by our relationship with animals. Imagine how our capacity might be expanded if we could actually speak with our dogs!


Signs Your Dog is Trying to Communicate

We live in a world with many languages. We think of language as words that are spoken and written. When we communicate, we also express our emotions and our needs with our physical expressions. In fact, we call that form of communication, "body language". Your dog communicates with you through body language. As a caring owner, it is important to learn the language of your dog. It will make your dog safer and more confident. It will make your relationship better and may even keep everyone in your household safer if you can learn the signals of your dog.

There are different types of vocalizations that dogs will use to communicate. It is their language. The main categories of dog-speak are barking, growling, whining, howling and whimpering. A dog that is distressed will have a high pitched and repetitive bark. Sometimes dogs get bored and they bark in a monotone. If your dog wants something, they might bark at you with persistence. 

Dog whining is high pitched with the mouth closed. Dogs whine when stressed and frustrated. Howling is often triggered by high pitched sounds and often considered a form of communication between wolves. Some dogs will also howl when distressed. Growls are a sound to take seriously because they are usually a warning. Your dog speaks, you just need to learn your best friend's language.

There are reasons why dogs vocalize. Your understanding of the context of the dog's vocalizations will improve your communication. Your dog is your best alarm. Dogs will bark to alert their owners of danger. Dogs will also engage in demand barking. One form of a dog having a temper tantrum is to just bark and bark out of frustration. Dogs will bark when bored, for example, when the neighbor leaves the dog outside all day. 

Play barking is just that, the dog is playing and expressing some joy and arousal in a bark - as if saying, "Hey, Let's play some more". Dogs will also bark to greet us when we come home because they are aroused with anticipation. 

Body Language

If you are wondering if your dog is trying to speak to you, just listen for:

  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Howling
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

Some of the different things your dog is trying to say include:

  • Alarm Barks Give You Warning Of A Problem
  • Demand Barking Occurs When The Dog Wants Something, Like A Treat
  • Frustration Barking That Goes On And On Is A Sign Your Dog Is Stressed Or Anxious
  • Boredom Barking Is Monotonous
  • Play Barking Invites You And Others To Come Have Fun
  • Greeting Barking To Say Hello

History of Dogs Communicating with Humans


Have you ever watched two people communicate when they do not speak the same language? They will gesture, point, wave, move their bodies, physically walk one another to something and point. With technology, they might even use translator tools to help them find the words. They are communicating. They are finding ways to speak.

The human-dog bond relies on communication that develops from living together, training and learning one another's patterns of behavior. Linguists generally define language as a signaling system. Considering the ways in which dogs are able to vocalize and use their bodies to signal to us, there is already a language that exists between dogs and humans. 

Studies have shown that dogs understand language at about the same level of comprehension as a toddler. Our dogs can learn to understand our words and behavior patterns. Language specialists believe that it is the responsibility of humans to learn the signaling systems of the dogs to better communicate. 

The Science of Dog-Speak


Scientists have been studying the language capacities of dogs and our abilities to perceive their signaling systems. The most talkative animal species, such as chimpanzees, parrots, and elephants are also evolved to be social. Dogs are social and use their vocalizations to communicate, as well. 

Dogs are not able to use their lips and tongues to produce human sounds. Dogs can be trained to imitate some sounds, for example, a dog may imitate "I love you" as "Wa - Rooo - Roo". Some animal behaviorists believe that if your dog could tell you what they are thinking when they imitate your sounds, the dog would say, "I just really want the cookie". 

In studies on the ability of dogs to communicate a meaning, a study was conducted with 40 volunteers who listened to the growls of dogs in different situations - guarding their food, facing a stranger, and playing tug-of-war. The women were better at interpreting the dog growls than men. Overall, the humans were 63% successful. They were most successful in identifying the play-growling sounds. The study highlighted the importance of understanding context to interpret the dog's signaling systems. 

There are scientists who are considering new possibilities for dogs to speak and serve humans. There are technologies developed for persons who are unable to speak for a variety of reasons, usually due to a medical or physical challenge. The Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems provide options for the individual to signal their needs to refuse, request, seek information or socialize using pictures, letters, words, or sounds. There are a variety of methods for the individual to indicate their choices by eye gaze, touch, or head movements. 

Futurologist, Dr. Ian Pearson, has proposed that by year 2050, dogs may be able to use an adapted form of these technologies to speak. When we consider the ways dogs will assist humans, there is a potential for dogs to better serve humans. For example, an elderly person may have a dog that is able to remind them to take their medication. Who knows? Your dog may find it convenient to save their vocal chords and use their communication device to say, "Hey, Sleepy Head, wake up and get me something to eat!". 

Training Your Dog to "Speak"


Teaching your dog to "Speak" is training to bark on command. This is considered to be a fairly easy trick to train. Obedience experts believe that training your dog to "Speak" can actually help to reduce barking problems because you are teaching your dog to only bark at your command. To train your dog to "Speak" you will need treats and a clicker.

Step 1. Get your dog to bark. When your dog barks, you say, "Speak", use the click, and provide a small treat. 

Step 2. Repeat and practice training of the association of the bark with your word "Speak", then click and reward.

Step 3. Try giving the command "Speak". If your dog barks, give them the treat. 

Some have trouble because their dog does not bark. If this is the case for you, then reward sounds that are an approximation of a bark. 

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Written by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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