4 min read


Can Dogs Understand Commands?



4 min read


Can Dogs Understand Commands?


It appears to be an easy topic. There is a lot of evidence to support that dogs can understand commands. On the one hand, dogs can be trained to understand commands from an early age. But some dogs, no matter how hard we try to communicate with them, do not have the same ability of understanding. 

Does it come down to breeds? Is training your dog right from when they are a puppy important? How can a dog develop a healthy appreciation of commands and obedience? In this article, we are going to explore the various evidence and provide answers to some of these pressing questions. 

Can dogs understand commands?  Let’s see what we can find.


Signs Your Dog Can Understand Your Commands

You may not have had the privilege of befriending your dog in their early years but most dogs can understand up to 165 words, which is the equivalent to the average intelligence of a human toddler! Quite an extraordinary talent, dogs are notorious for not only understanding up to 165 words, but also having the ability to process and analyze a response.

Naughty, we know, but you DO know when your dog deliberately ignores you as he is chasing your neighbors cat around the house. In fact, their intelligence is so well documented, it’s virtually a given that dogs can understand words. But what about specific commands?

In practice, if you have just got your puppy or beloved older dog, they may not be accustomed to your style of communication. Dogs respond in a variety of ways and you may find you have to go through the process of learning with them. 

The sound of your voice, how you treat your dog, and what you show them to do when you issue your commands all teach them what your ideal response is and it all comes down to perseverance and constant training. 

Dogs can be trained using either sounds, words, commands, hand signals or other actions, enabling them to understand and respond to the trainer. Some of these dogs are able to become special companions and service dogs, helping individuals to live a normal life. 

The evidence is there. Dogs can understand commands. And commands that are to do with eating, playing and going to the park are commands every dog will pick up with ease. Simple commands like that are very enjoyable for the dog and are a great incentive for a dog to become very well-behaved, especially in public. 

Basic commands like “Sit”, “Stay” and “Fetch” are common commands to teach your dog too, and are particularly powerful when they are combined with a treat or a reward. Dogs just love their treats and will do anything for them.

Body Language

Here are some of the key signs that shows your dog understands a command:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Head Tilting
  • Raise Ears

Other Signs

These are some other clues that your pooch is getting it:

  • They Lean Forward
  • They Stand On Their Tip-Toes
  • They Obey The Command

The History of Dogs Learning Commands


Before dogs became domesticated pets in homes shortly after WW1, there is strong evidence of dogs all over the world being used for farming, hunting, messaging and especially for wars. From the ancient Greeks to the Britons and the Persians dating as far back as 525BC, dogs were used on a daily basis for a ton of different needs. 

Obviously for these dogs to be helpful, they would have to be able to understand and respond to various commands given by the one in control. And as humans became more versatile and educated, our methods for training them also changed. 

It was only as early as the 1940’s that things changed and dogs were regarded as household pets. And even now, they are very much in use with various law enforcements, armies and as service dogs. Dogs can and are able to be trained on practically ANY command, provided they are taught by a caring and responsible owner. It does come down to you as a trainer and a pet lover. 

Once, a dog intelligence test was implemented to find out how many words a dog could understand. A border collie, known to be an intelligent breed, memorized over 200 words. His name was Rico. And many intelligence tests have also been conducted since!

Science of Dogs Understanding Commands


A study that was conducted on Dogs in the prestigious journal “Science”. Academics in Hungary trained 13 dogs to lie down in an MRI scanner and watched them on the monitor as the dogs were spoken to. They discovered that dogs' brains assimilated information just as humans do, the right brain dealing with emotion and the left brain understanding meaning. 

And, interestingly enough, if the dog heard praise and both parts of the brain gelled, the dog became “TRULY” happy. The message was congruent in presentation and delivery. As we assimilate this information, the right brain largely processes intonation (how it sounds) and the left brain processes the meaning of the word.

Training of Dogs on Understanding Commands


This is a HUGE avenue to explore and the following article cannot simply convey the massive amount of information contained to teach you the basics and the advanced dog training in its entirety.

Generally speaking, the most essential commands to teach your pet dog are "sit", "stay", "leave it", "come" and "down". These simple instructions enforce and encourage a good behavior and are needed in order to socialize your dog properly when taking them out in public.

By teaching your dogs these easy commands, you can strengthen your relationship and build upon more complicated commands.

We might stress that It is important to speak to your dog in a low tone, without raising your voice. Speaking your commands with authority but gentleness will enable your dog to obey without making them feel they are bad or being punished. Making your training sessions minimal  (less than 3 minutes training with hourly breaks) helps the dog learn while having fun and being able to express themselves in an open and relaxed way.

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By a Maltichon lover Nicola Tewhare

Published: 01/25/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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