5 min read


What Can Dogs Understand?



5 min read


What Can Dogs Understand?


Do you ever find yourself having long conversations with your dog? Sometimes it seems like our dogs can really understand us. They comfort us when we're sad, they celebrate with us when we get home from a long day, and they seem to understand the world in their own way. So, what can dogs understand? 

Sometimes it might seem like a dog has a 6th sense due to his ability to react appropriately to unique situations. For example, how do dogs know that people are scared, even when we don't? Read more to find out all of the things that dogs can understand! 


Signs that a Dog is Understanding

Dogs can understand more than you might think. They have a keen understanding of what humans want and need based on their thousands of years of evolution. As a result, they are able to understand a lot about the world around them. 

Using their strong sense of smell, dogs can understand when a person is happy or sad based on the rise or fall of brain chemicals that make humans feel happy. They also use their sense of smell to detect fear based on an increase in the production of sweat from the person who is scared. 

Dogs have a great ability to read body language and facial expressions. They can determine our mood by staring at us in order to study what our nonverbal communication is saying. 

When dogs notice we are sad, they have their own way of reacting depending on their breed and personality. Many dogs will approach their human in a non-threatening way. They may walk slowly towards you with their head lowered to the ground in a loving way. Some dogs will even comfort a sad human by leaning into them for a hug. Other dogs may back away in order to give you space. 

When humans are angry, dogs can tell based on your tone of voice and body language. You may notice their reaction to your anger - sometimes they will give you guilty puppy-dog-eyes and sometimes they will hide because they don't want to get in trouble. 

Dogs can generally understand up to 165 words. They pick up on words over time. Dogs can come to understand greetings, they can comprehend goodbyes, and they know when they are about to go on a w-a-l-k. You'll know your dog is understanding the words you're saying based on his reaction. If you are asking him to do something, he'll follow your command. If you tell him you're going to the park, he may get very excited and begin jumping up or barking. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice when your dog understands you:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Head Tilting
  • Listening
  • Jumping Up

Other Signs

Here are some other signs you might notice when your dog is understanding you:

  • Picking Out An Object Correctly
  • Following Commands
  • Going To The Right Location
  • Getting Really Excited
  • Hiding

History of Dogs Understanding Things


The bond between human and dog blossomed many years ago. Man and wolf wandered the land separately for millennia. Finally, they found out that they could help each other. At least 15,000 years ago, humans and wolves found out they could help each other. Wolves helped humans hunt and they were on the front lines of protecting humans. Humans also helped protect wolves, and they fed them their leftover food. The bond grew into friendship and eventually, wolves began looking like the dogs we know and love today. 

Some wolf traits have remained and become dog traits over the thousands of years of evolution. Like wolves, dogs have an outstanding sense of smell. Some traits from wolves grew stronger through the evolution process. One of the traits that developed was an ability to understand what humans were communicating both verbally and nonverbally. 

The more they responded to and predicted the desires and needs of humans, the more they were rewarded. So, this trait remained with the dogs who were rewarded for the desired behavior. Some dogs are better hunters, some are better cuddlers, and some are better protectors. This was all determined by which breeds were rewarded for which traits. 

Over time, certain breeds gained a general personality type based on the needs of their humans. Now, there are countless breeds of dogs, but many of those personality traits from their older dog ancestors remain. Dogs that are comprised of many different breeds have bits and pieces of their parents and grandparents, just like humans. 

Science of Dogs Understanding


Dogs do not have a sixth sense, but their powerful sense of smell often makes it seem like they do. Dogs have around 600 million olfactory receptors which help them smell countless individual scents. For example, dogs can smell the individual ingredients in a stew, while humans can't detect all of those scents separately. Dogs use this powerful sense of smell to detect sweat production, pheromones, and hormones in humans. They use this information to determine how to behave. 

The sweetness that comes from dogs when we need them is unparalleled. They have a wonderful ability to comfort us when we are distressed. When you are sharing a cuddle or a bonding moment with your dog, you both experience a spike in brain chemicals that make you feel good. A brain chemical called oxytocin is released in both parties. Oxytocin produces feelings of euphoria and love, which strengthens the bond between a dog and his owner. 

Training a Dog to Understand Things


Dogs can be trained to do amazing things. Some dogs can even be trained to dance to a song with their owner! Training a dog is never a bad idea, dogs benefit from having structure and consistency in their day. A big way to provide that is by training your dog. This also gives dogs intellectual stimulation which can strengthen their intellect and in turn strengthen their ability to understand social cues and commands. 

In order to train your dog to understand new things, you can give him treats when he completes a task that you have asked him to do. It's best to start small and work your way up to more advanced tricks when you are beginning to train your dog. Dogs can learn new things at any age, though at older ages it can be more difficult to break old habits. With consistent and regular training, you can train your dog to respond to your words and body language. 

Though most dogs love treats, not all dogs are treat-motivated. Sometimes, they just don't like the treats you are giving them. If your dog really doesn't like treats, you can reward him by playing his favorite game or giving positive praise. When the reward center in their brain is activated, dogs know you like their behavior. You can activate their reward center by partaking in activities they like. 

Some dogs are trained to understand things on an entirely different level. With specified training, dogs can be trained to understand a variety of different needs. For example, some dogs can learn sign language in order to assist their owners who are hearing-impaired. Some dogs are trained to provide comfort to people who are distressed. Some dogs even join the police force to fight for justice! 

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Safety Tips for Training Dogs

  1. Accommodate for your dog if he needs different attention from humans.
  2. Learn your dog's boundaries.
  3. Keep your dog away from threatening people.

By a Corgi lover Simone DeAngelis

Published: 02/16/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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