4 min read


Can Dogs Understand Insults?



4 min read


Can Dogs Understand Insults?


Do you ever talk to your dog and wonder if they understand you? Better yet, do you come home to find that they’ve torn apart the kitchen and you tell them what a bad doggie they’ve been, and they get those sad eyes, that just make you forgive them? 

Maybe they can understand what you’re saying and are truly sorry - they only did it because they were bored. Dogs seem to understand us when we say “want a treat”, so maybe they understand us when we are insulting them too - or maybe we just think they do! 


Signs of Dogs Understanding Insults

There have been many studies done to see if dogs can understand humans - their tone and their body language. Some studies show that certain dog breeds are more intelligent than others, or they are more aggressive, stubborn, or energetic. 

The first sign to recognize if your dog can understand the insults you are throwing their way is that their ears go down along with their head. This paired with those ‘puppy dog’ eyes can let you, as an owner, know that your dog understands what you are trying to communicate. 

Now, if you said an insult in a neutral tone, or in a praising voice, the dog would react in a different way. Praising a dog would conclude in him or her wagging their tail in excitement, whereas neutral would get their ears up. 

Dogs understand words they know, and the tone of your voice because they don’t necessarily understand the meaning of the words you are saying to them, they connect the emotion, tone, and your behavior together. Owners have used verbal commands to train their dogs for years, but dogs understand these commands through actions.

Therefore, if you insulted your dog with anger, using a negative tone, they would pick up on your frustration and know that they did something wrong. Another sign that a dog knows you are insulting them is by cowering in a corner, hiding their face, or completely running away.

These signs help owners and dogs connect and understand what they are both feeling, which in the end just creates a stronger bond, because who wouldn’t forgive those puppy dog eyes?

Body Language

Here are some of the signs to look for to see if your pup gets that you are ticked off:

  • Staring
  • Whining
  • Listening
  • Cowering
  • Ears Drop
  • Weakness

Other Signs

These are other signs you may notice if your dog can understand your insults:

  • Barking At You
  • Shaking
  • Hiding In A Corner
  • Running Away

History of Dogs Understanding Insults


For as long as dogs have been around, humans have used verbal communication and commands to train their dogs. They have also used affection and frustration along with the tone of their voice to let the animal know what they are feeling. 

Dogs, like many animals, were not domesticated for a long time throughout history, but once they became domesticated they developed two main abilities. These abilities allowed them to form a bond with humans. Social tolerance and social attentiveness are the two abilities that allowed their behaviour to change while around humans. This is in contrast to that of a stray, or a wild animal that isn’t used to human contact, nor do they understand your intention.

Researchers have even found that dogs can process verbal communication in a similar way to that of humans. This research focused on the brain activity that was monitored during a specific study of dogs to see how much they could understand. 

Similar to our brain activity, dogs were able to use certain parts of their brain to feel emotion. As time goes on, new research will be presented that will hopefully enable us to understand dogs more, because we now know how much they can understand us! 

Science Behind Dogs Understanding Insults


Science proves that dogs understand the emotional aspect associated with the insult based on tone, and body language, not necessarily the insult itself. 

As much as we'd all love to have a conversation with our dog, (and have them understand that by “no peeing”, we mean no peeing) that’s just not the case. 

We can show the dog that it’s bad to pee through training, but they will never fully understand the words that are being said to them. Scientific information proves that a doggy's left brain hemisphere is activated as soon as we start talking to them, and they use their right hemisphere to process generic/neutral sounds, but using different tones activate different parts of the brain. Fascinating!

How to Get Your Dog to Understand Your Insults


To get dogs to understand your insults, you have to start by getting them trained to understand verbal communication. To get to know the pooch and have them trust you, you have to start with ‘sniff communication’, which you’ve no doubt seen pups do in new places to get comfortable. 

By offering your hand they can get to know your scent and become more comfortable. Then you move on to talking to your dog and teaching them the words and their meanings.

Assertive signals are a great way to start, using a calm, low-pitched tone of voice and short words that you repeat as often as possible so that the dog can start to understand the word. 

Make sure you are confident in your words and are standing tall. Use your body to control dog movements, as well as verbal communication to show them that they need to back off.

Teaching this first will allow the dog to understand the words you are using, as well as the tone and body language. This enables the dog—especially from a young age - to learn the words and what behavior is good and bad. In regard to insults, well a dog will not necessarily understand you if you say, “your sweater isn’t cute” but they can feel the emotion through the tone you are saying it in. 

Therefore, if you say it using the voice you use when praising them, they’ll likely get excited, but if you use your frustrated tone, they will understand that it is negative. In the end, you can tell your dog their haircut isn’t flattering, and they probably won’t be able to understand you, but insulting your dog isn’t fun anyways, because they’re all cuties even with a bad haircut.

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

By a Dalmatian lover Katrina Kryza

Published: 01/26/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.