How to Talk to Dogs (and Know if They Understand You!)

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I'll be back soon!

You're such a good doggo!

Do phrases like these slip out of your mouth often? If so, you're not alone, as most dog parents talk to their dogs. But does your furry companion understand what you're saying? It's a good question that researchers — and pet lovers alike — often explore. Let's learn how to talk to dogs in a way they can understand, the best way to communicate and the physical cues to watch for in a dog that indicate they are, indeed, listening.

Do Dogs Like When You Talk to Them?

Yes! Research published in Animal Cognition found that both puppies and adult dogs are attentive to the high-pitch voice we use with babies and the more even-toned language used with adults. However, dogs do seem to have a slight preference for the child-like talk we often engage them with. All words are heard! But, like children, that doesn't always mean your dog is going to be interested in what you have to say.

So, what do dogs want to hear? When the sentences contain "dog-relevant words" (think "treat," "walk," "go outside" or "car ride"), you can harness your pet's attention. This curiosity, in turn, strengthens the bond between you and your pet.

How to Talk to Dogs

To get your dog to listen, try combining a child-like tone with words your dog likes to hear and use your hands to gesture toward what you're talking about.

 Woman talking to a dog in nature

Let's put this idea to the test. Use the classic sandwich method by offering praise or a treat to get your dog's attention, elicit a response and, finally, praise them.

  1. Do you want to go outside? Point to the door. This will get your dog's attention and trigger a happy response because they like the word "outside."
  2. Can you go potty? You're asking your dog to do the task while you have their attention. They should listen and start sniffing around to go potty.
  3. Good job! Your dog listened and did what you asked. Give your dog verbal praise that they enjoy and back scratches or ear rubs for going potty.

How to Tell if Your Dog Is Listening

Dogs primarily communicate nonverbally, according to the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Learning how to read these cues helps us understand their reactions to our words. The School explains five key types of communication from dogs:

  1. Fearful: If your dog is fearful, you might notice them licking their lips, tightly closing their mouth, cowering, tucking their tail, pinning their ears back to their head, trembling or avoiding eye contact.
  2. Aroused: If your dog is alert and attentive, you might notice them displaying signs of excitement and happiness such as wagging their tail, jumping up on you, bowing or barking gently.
  3. Anxious: If your dog is anxious, you might notice them excessively panting, pacing, walking in circles or lacking focus.
  4. Aggressive: If your dog is aggressive, you might notice them vocalizing loudly, growling, stiffening their body, widening their eyes or showing their teeth with curled lips.
  5. Relaxed: If your dog is relaxed, you might notice them smiling, loosening their body posture, opening their mouth slightly, gently wagging their tail or lying down in a relaxed position.

If your dog doesn't make eye contact, exhibit any body language or walks away, they're not listening. If this happens repeatedly, contact your veterinarian to conduct a hearing test to be sure your dog isn't experiencing hearing loss.

Do Dogs Like When You Talk to Them?

Dogs love to hear you chat. If you listen and watch your dog closely, you can determine what your dog thinks of your words.

Relaxed or aroused responses are always a plus, but as a savvy pet parent, reading the other signs is important to keep you, your pet and others around you safe. So, chat with your dog! See how many tail wags you can get by talking about favorite pastimes, whether it's car rides or trail hikes. Your pet is listening!

Contributor Bio

Angela Tague

Angela Tague

Angela Tague is a pet mom and writer in the Midwest. When she's not exploring nature trails with her dog, she's writing for petcare brands including Kaytee, Purina, Zilla, Aqueon and Big Heart Pet.