Things like this are very commonly heard at every small animal practice: my dog is so clever, if he only could talk… It’s true that dogs can’t talk, but they can do something much more difficult: they can listen. This is the other think you can hear practically everyday at the practice: my dog understands everything I say, like a person would. It looks like this is true since dogs appear to be able to understand about 300 words.
Recent researches prove that dogs are able to understand human words as they hear them, that means, not by the voice tone, not by our complementary gestures, but by the word itself, same as a human being would.
Dogs intraspecific communication is more based in gestures than in sounds: body, ears and tail position, for example. Barking is not used preferably for communication. This can be easily observed when watching 2 or more dogs playing together: they don’t bark each other. They just growl or cry as a complaint if other dog has hurt them, but that’s all. Dogs that bark a lot are, in most cases, those ones which live with people.
Dogs and humans are being living together for more than 10,000 years, and dogs have learnt to listen and understand human words, possibly much better than humans understand dogs.
What’s implied on the fact that dogs can understand human language?
Dogs are not only able to obey commands: sit, come, down… etc. We all know dogs which help disabled people can execute complex commands such as “look for a green traffic light at your right side”, “get an object from the closet”, etc. But not only an elite trained dog: our non-trained companion dog can understand what we say, despite it can’t understand. Possibly most dogs understand perfectly words such as “Vet”, “injection”, “beach”, “play”, “treat”, “shower”, “car”, and the names of its human family members.
What about parrots? Well, in comparison with dogs they have an extra advantage since they can articulate human words. In some cases they can understand the meaning of the words they use, and this makes them able to answer questions and ask for things. African Grays are the best talking birds: they can learn 100-200 words. As dogs do, they are able to identify the sound and the meaning, and this makes possible to have a “conversation” with them, of course with big limitations, similar to the one you could have with a 2 years old child.
What about cats? Despite we have been investigating at the Internet, we couldn’t find a serious article about feline linguistic abilities, but according to our experience, we firmly believe that they are so clever that they prefer to be silent.
Liliana Aldeguer Cerdán col 793
English translation by Sergio Reina Esteban col 747