Well, perhaps up to a point, dogs can fathom out what your intentions are…. but more often than not, they’re putting a whole load of received signals together, and are mostly listening to the actual sound of your voice – because while there is a certain amount of comprehension, the tone we use is far more telling, most of the time.
Because dogs transmit their attitudes by using using a series of sounds – barking, whining, whimpering, growling, yelping – they’re listening for similar intonation in our voices, to attempt to discern exactly the mood we’re in. So verbal intonation, when you DO communicate verbally with your dog, is an important factor.
That all being said, dogs are capable of learning a certain quantity of words, because they have a retentive capacity.
Just as young children learn many words before being able to talk, so dogs too, are capable of learning certain words as commands or indications of a specific object or action.
This is because our audial ability develops before our verbal ability kicks in.
American astronauts are taught to understand Russian, without necessarily learning to speak it. Russian cosmonauts are taught American – again, without necessarily learning to speak it. So, in joint space ventures, the Americans speak in American to the Russians – who understand them – but who reply in Russian – which in turn, the Americans understand!
The secret then, of learning any verbal communication, is to listen intently first of all….
It is with repetition and visual indication, that we can ask a young toddler, and a dog, to get us the red ball – and in time, they both will.
The difference is, of course, that given further time, teaching and prompting, the child will eventually repeat what we say, and even make comment of their own, as their lingual and verbal ability progresses.
Dogs of course, are insufficiently developed – either mentally or physiologically – to be able to coherently respond. So they will never reply, and at some point, their mental ability to retain commands will be exhausted. However, most dogs will understand the amount of words we direct at them, because in all honesty, we really won’t need them to understand anything too complicated, as our family pet.
Dogs in general are probably able to process around 200 words of command or direction, or further, as a descriptions of specific objects. However, it must be remembered that most people training their dogs, will accompany many words of command with a gesture, and in time, many dogs will respond to the combination of word/gesture far more promptly, than by use of words alone.
The primary language of any creature – including humans – is Body Language.
It should also be noted that certain specialist dogs, such as those associated with drug detection, or security and Police work – are trained to follow specific commands with words not normally associated with those standard commands. For example, in order for a police dog to respond to a specific handler, that handler will almost certainly never use the word ‘sit’ to get his dog to sit. He may use a completely different word, such as ‘tail’. But as long as he trains the dog to associate that word with sitting down, it really doesn’t matter what word he uses – providing only he and the dog know it.
That ensures a close working partnership between handler and dog – and this relationship lasts a lifetime.
Providing you establish clear boundaries as to who is boss, of course….
And there’s no doubt that some dogs ‘get it’ better than others….(link)