Dogs may not understand if we are speaking English or Urdu, and certainly are unable to speak like humans, as they lack the physical and mental (Broca’s brain) components for speech. Through repetition and praise, though, dogs can learn the meanings of the words humans speak. Some very clever dogs have a vocabulary of over 300 English words, though the “average” dog is able to understand around 165 words (http://www.animalplanet.com/pets/how-many-words-do-dogs-know/). The current record holder for smartest dog, according to Dr Stanley Coren, renowned expert in canine intelligence, is Chaser, who has a whopping vocabulary of 1022 words.
When we speak, our voices change according to how we’re emoting. If we’re angry, we tend to raise our voice, or go really low and almost inaudible. If we’re happy, we sound chirpy and enthusiastic. If we’re sad, our voice may tremble or we may choke on our words. Dogs are very good at picking up on these secondary language signals. And they seem to know when their owners need their comforting presence.
Our body language also speaks volumes to dogs. We don’t have to say anything, but a dog can pick up on whether we’re sad (hunched shoulders, curled up in a foetal position), angry (standing straight, tight faced, arms akimbo), happy (open-armed, light steps, dancing), etc. A dog can pick up on exactly how a human being is feeling and even what his intentions are, even if the human is pretending to be otherwise. For example, if you were angry at your dog because he went on your favourite sofa, but you tried to pretend that you weren’t angry, so you could get your dog to come to you and then berate him for his misdemeanour – you may be calling his name in the sweetest of tones, and enticing him with treats, but your body language still reads “Angry, May Become Violent, Stay Out Of The Way” to the dog. And that is why he won’t come to you.
So, the next time you speak to your dog, observe your own body language at the same time as you speak. You’ll be surprised at just how well your dog is able to “read” you and respond accordingly. He doesn’t really need language to understand you. Humans, on the other hand, tend to become encumbered by language barriers between different cultures, or even within the same culture – to the extent that miscommunications happen all the time, even between two people speaking the exact same language. In some cultures, people also tend to hide their body language behind clothing, and to keep their gestures to a minimum, or, conversely, gesticulate wildly…this is likely to confuse dogs.
Remember, always, always use positive reinforcement techniques for teaching your dog anything. And never, ever hit your dog, because that only destroys any trust you’ve built up with it, and you’ll be hard pressed to start all over again.