The general consensus about whether or not dogs comprehend human speech is that they understand some, but not all. For instance, most dogs seem to know exactly what you mean when you say words such as “food,” “treat,” “walk,” etc, but not others. According to a study on NewsWeek, dogs have the ability to distinguish speech from gibberish if the word in question has a specific association. The reason that dogs are able to distinguish from gibberish, as stated by Ethology.eu, is that dogs understand sounds and associate them with the item most frequently shown with that word. For example, if you repeatedly show a dog a bacon strip while saying the word “treat” they will correlate the sound of the word “treat” with what you’ve shown them. This process of learning language is similar to the way that a toddler learns how to speak by associating words with the objects they’ve been shown. Dogs with mild training can also separate and learn how to differentiate items by knowing their given size, shape, or color. With a higher degree of training, dogs can even start to associate phrases with a given action, such as “fetch the ball.” This process of training is also prominently used in therapy dogs when teaching them how to retrieve important and specific things for their owners, such as their medications.
Dogs tend to have a general comprehension of affection as well as speech. Of course, dogs may not fully understand that when you’re hugging them, you are specifically giving them a hug, but they will understand that your arms around them is a sign of affection. As puppies, they will not immediately recognize what is happening when you show love to them, but they do not start to grasp that affection is positive until they grow older.
In short, although dogs may not understand English per se, they do know to correlate certain sounds and actions with particular meanings. So, yes, just as you know that when your dog gives you the paw it means he’s cool with your presence, he knows your hug means that you’re proud of him.
Copyright Kayleah Strunk 2020