Can Dogs Only Hear Vowels?

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Introduction

It's hard to know what dogs are really hearing when we talk to them. We teach them to respond to commands. Most people talk to dogs with baby talk - a high pitch with much excitement. Some dogs will howl along if we sing in a high pitched voice. These observations lead us to believe that our dogs are comprehending our words.

When it comes to understanding the parts of speech (the sounds of vowels and consonants), it's hard to know which sounds the dog is hearing and responding to when we speak to them. Scientists are finding that dogs will be more responsive to some consonants than others in their names. 

While we do not know for certain if dogs are detecting vowels, it is likely the nature of the adjacent consonant sound will be the focus of the dog's auditory perception.

Signs Your Dog is Responding to Sound

Dogs do not have the ability to use words as humans do. As our companions, it is only natural that we speak to them and assume they understand us. Our dogs need us to be attentive to what they have to say to us. They tell us their feelings and reactions in their behavior and body language. 

If you become an astute observer of your dog's body, posture, tail, ears, eyes, nose, and mouth and consider the context in which your dog is at the moment, you may begin to recognize your dog's instinctive reactions. Part of being a good owner is developing skills to speak with your dog by observing and understanding your dog's body language.

Dogs can have an array of reactions to sounds, from ignoring them to becoming agitated by them. When dogs are responsive to their owners, they have a relaxed and confident appearance. The dog will have a loose stance with flat feet. Their tail is down. The mouth is open with the tongue hanging loose. The ears are up but not forward. Their head is held high. 

If your dog is hearing sounds or vocalizations from you that are confusing, your dog will appear puzzled. The confused dog will look at you with a tilted head. You may see the dog's ears wiggling about as the dog is trying to figure out what you want. When some dogs become confused, they may even start searching and pacing in an effort to find the behavior you are seeking.

Dogs will respond to words with specific responses that can be predictable. Dogs can learn their names and they will respond to their name by becoming aroused. If you have a positive relationship with your dog, the sound of your pet's name will summon your dog to come to you.

Dogs will also respond to words that are trained as commands. The sounds that dogs react to are often related to the dog's experience with the sound as a pup. If the dog has not had exposures to sound, loud or new sounds can be frightening. 

The fearful dog acts anxious. The dog may become dependent on you, demanding you stay by crying and barking. Some dogs will actually try to hide, be cowering, or even shaking. They may pant and exhaust themselves with agitated pacing and barking. 

If the dog likes a particular sound, such as soft music, you may even see the dog calm down and relax. Like people, dogs can have different reactions to sounds and to words.

Body Language

Signs that your dog hears what you have said are:
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Pacing
  • Ears up
  • Tongue hanging

Other Signs

More cues that your dog gets the sounds you are making include:
  • Coming when they are called
  • Responding to commands
  • Hiding if they do not like what has been said

The Science of Dogs Hearing

Scientists and trainers have made observations on how the dog responds to language. Researchers at Sussex University studied about 250 dogs. They tested how their brains processed language when the dogs were presented with familiar commands without intonation or with jumbled words. They established that the dogs did understand the words. 

The left hemisphere of the dog brain was stimulated by words. The age of the dog can make a difference in their responsiveness to the human voice. Pups are very responsive to the human voice. Older, adult dogs ignored the voice. 

There have also been investigations into the reactions of dogs to word parts. Canine experts have established that dogs are more responsive to hard consonant sounds than to soft consonant sounds. The letters "g" and "c" have hard and soft sounds. 

For example, the letter "g" is hard in the words "garden" or  "go". The "g" is soft, with a "j" sound in words like  "giraffe" or "gem". The letter "c" is hard in words like "coin" or "cup". The letter is soft in words like "cycle" or "cinnamon". 

Dogs are more likely to remember and recognize their names if they have hard consonant sounds. When it comes to the dog's ability to hear vowels, that evidence has not been provided. Consonants and vowels, when combined, become syllables. Pups prefer one-syllable words. 

When it comes to naming your dog, experts advise a name with no more than two syllables. The dog's ability to hear vowels is likely only in connection to whether the vowel is connected to a hard or soft consonant and simple word. Even then, it may be the word and consonant is getting the dog's attention.

Training Your Dog to Know Their Name

As we just learned, pups are going to be most responsive to dog names that have a hard consonant sound and are simple, with no more than two syllables. Once you decide on the name for your pup, you will want to train your dog to recognize their name. 

Positive reinforcement training should be used with your pup. This means the training sessions will be brief, positive, and fun for you both. You will want to associate the sound of the pup's name with something fabulous for the dog. 

Say the dog's name while holding a treat. When the dog reacts, say "yes" and give the pup the treat. Wait a few seconds and then repeat. After a few sessions, your dog should start to recognize that a treat will follow when they hear their name. 

The next step is to train your pup to recognize the new name when the dog is not paying attention to you. With a leash on your dog, wait for the dog to be distracted and say your dog's name. If your dog comes to you, say "yes" and give your dog the treat. If your dog continues to ignore you, gently pull the leash. When the dog looks at you, say "yes" and give the dog the treat. Repeat the exercise several times each day.

Never use your dog's name all the time or the name will not be recognized by the dog. It will not have a meaning. Never call your dog and then punish your dog, as this will negatively associate their name with punishment.

How to React to Your Dog Responding to Sounds:

  • Go ahead and talk to your dog - you will both enjoy it!
  • Pay attention to your dog's reactions to sound.
  • Play them soothing music.
  • Use simple one- and two-word commands when training your dog.
  • Find a name for your dog with a hard consonant sound.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog Responding to Vowels!