How Much Does My Dog Understand?

By Miguel Gonzalvo
Published 2019 December 16 – From December 2019 Issue

Dog lovers alike can attest to always talking to their dogs, whether it be to show affection or to order them to do tricks, but how much of what we say do they really understand? Luckily, there have been studies conducted to help us better gauge if a man’s best friend also sees man as its best friend. 

Do They Understand Words?

The sad truth is, dogs do not fully understand all the “sit”s, “good girl/boy”s, or even “I love you”s humans use. However, they do eventually give meaning to a word through tone, body language, and consequences. According to Roger Abrantes, an evolutionary biologist and ethologist, dogs associate actions with a word. Since they only associate the action with one word, it is likely that you will get the same reaction when you say “Come, let’s walk” and “guitar, tophat, walk”. For them to associate actions with words they need both positive reinforcement and the absence of competing stimuli. Basically, if you want a dog to do something, you must make sure he/she has nothing better to do, which is why treats are often used. 

Do dogs have feelings (for themselves and their owners)?

Dogs have been proven to have the hormones that allow them to feel basic emotions including fear, anger, sadness, and even love (oxytocin). Thus, when it comes to taming a dog, most researchers would say that the owner should be able to exert more confidence than the dog. If the dog senses insecurity or nervousness it will either be nervous as well or take charge of the situation. Natural selection can also be attributed to why dogs today have feelings and attachment to humans. Due to variation, some wolves, which are the ancestors of dogs, were kept and nurtured because they were friendlier, while the meaner and more vicious ones were killed or left to roam the wild. Eventually these friendly wolves variated into the lovable frenchies, pugs, and corgis we all know today. 

So does my dog love me? 

If you take care of him/her, then YES. An MRI scan on dogs was done in Emory University that proved dogs’ brains respond strongest to the scent of their human compared to anything else. What makes this even better is that dogs are one of the most affectionate creatures on earth, although personalities vary so they might show their love in different manners. Some will be bringing you toys, yawning when you yawn, cuddling, and even maintaining eye contact. However, if you feel that your dog does not love you enough, then spend more quality time with him/her. Just cleaning up after your dog or taking them on walks can guarantee more love and appreciation from him/her.


Abrantes R. Do Dogs Understand What We Say? Ethology Institute. 2018 Nov 14. (accessed 2019 Oct 31). Available from: Dogs. 

Animal Behaviour. (accessed 2019 Oct 31]. Available from:

Fisher T. Brain scans reveal what dogs really think of us. (accessed 2019 Oct 31). Available from:

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