Bilingual Dogs

Bilingual Dogs: Can Your Dog “Speak” More Than One Language?

Communication has been proven to be one of the useful means to understand each other, and human beings communicate mostly via language. Animals have their own way of communicating with each other, that does not involve speaking like humans. When it comes to communication between humans and animals, it is a bit more complicated because both parties cannot understand each other. When it comes to languages, it seems like your furry companion understands what you are saying, but is that really the case? In this article, It will be made clear whether or not dogs understand language. We also seek to answer the question: Can your dog speak more than one language. If they do not understand language, then how do they know what their owners say to obey commands.

Do Dogs Understand English?

The straightforward response to this question is, no, dogs don’t understand English. They don’t understand any other language created by humans for that matter. Knowing this, we can further answer the question, can dogs be bilingual? And the answer to this is also no. Dogs do not rely on languages in the way that humans do and use other needs to comprehend what is going on or what is being communicated. This includes words, gestures, facial expressions, body language, and sounds. Dogs cannot make sense of sentences and use specific terms that are familiar to them to interpret the sentence. Some refer to it as selective hearing, and it can get hectic when trying to get your dog to do something, and they won’t budge. Dogs cannot process information the same way as humans do it, so it will be absurd to assume they understand language. Some like to think of it as them being multilingual because they’re able to fish out the relevant information from any language spoken and obey that command. It is unclear what goes on in a dog’s mind when you have a full-blown conversation with him. However, one thing is sure that most of what you are saying is useless to him, which is obvious in the fact that they cannot even respond.

How Do Dogs Understand You?

  • Sounds and tones

Usually, dogs understand it better when language is accompanied by other means of communication. The tone of your voice can be instrumental when associated with a verbal command. The tone can be an indication of how serious you are or whether it is time to play. Generally, quiet and calm voices or sounds are known not to stop bad behavior. You will have to be very firm with your voice when you need your dog to obey specific commands. Sometimes being quiet is the best option, and it tells your dog that the behavior it is exhibiting is acceptable. Gentle controls only work when the action is right, and you want to continue. Also, when sounds are repeatedly used to signal for behaviors, it is easy for your dog to associate the two with each other. For example, if your dog hears you use ‘sit’ every time, it will more often than not sit when he or she hears the word. It does not necessarily mean they know the word, but it means they understand what it represents and the consequences that come with it.

  • Hand gestures

Hand gestures are another great way by which your dog understands you. They respond more to body language which is a more precise indication of what you need them to do. It does not really matter the words you use, but the action that follows it makes a difference. The best way to have them understand is to combine the use of hand gestures with words so that they can equate the behavior with the sound. This is because there are a lot of different words that can mean the same thing, but not many hand gestures represent the same thing. Too many words can confuse your dog so the gestures are a more reliable way to communicate with them.

What Language Do Dogs Speak?

Dogs do not ‘speak’ in the way that humans do, but, as mentioned, they have their own way of getting information across. First of all, dogs bark for any situation but the distinction comes in the tone of the sound. You can tell whether they are excited, hungry, or annoyed by the sound that comes out of their mouths. They also communicate via body language with actions like yawning, eye squeezing, and pouty mouth. Activities like wagging their tail help you know they will want you around while growling alerts you to be careful. Dogs are visual animals and so it is easier for them to look and understand as opposed to hearing. Dogs use scent cues as well in communicating, especially with each other. They use scents to mark their territory or inform others of their presence.

To Summarize

In reality, bilingual dogs may exist, but not in the way humans expect. Dogs cannot do much with words but can understand sounds and body language. Over the years, dogs have put in a lot of effort to adapt to the human lifestyle and that is why it seems they understand language. They will try to meet you halfway when it comes to communication in their attempt to please you. Words are very confusing for dogs so they use the sounds, combined with gestures, and in many cases, rewards to exhibit desirable behavior. It is not hard to communicate with them since they are quite intelligent and are willing to do the work. It will vary from breed to breed how well they understand words and what their specific means of communication are. But generally, words are of no use to dogs, and so you should not rely on them to communicate with your pup.


  1. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, Is It Normal to Talk to Pets?, PetMD
  2. Linda Lombardi, What’s Going On When You Talk to Your Pet, VetStreet
  3. Lynn Buzhardt, DVM, Eavesdropping Dogs…Do Dogs Understand Our Conversations?, VCA Hospitals

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