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Can Dogs Talk?

By Sam Hirschhorn

Have you ever heard two dogs bark at each other and wondered what on Earth they are saying? What about when you leave your furry friends home alone? Do you ever wonder if there truly is a “secret life” of pets?

While your dogs probably aren’t chatting about their weekend plans like we might imagine, it is true that dogs communicate with each other. Communication between canines occurs through vocal expressions (like barking!), body language and scents.

In terms of barking, major aspects to look out for include pitch and frequency. A lower pitch corresponds to a more serious dog. For example, the bark a dog would use to confront an intruder would be a lot lower than the bark he uses while enjoying a game of fetch with his owner. Additionally, the frequency of the bark (or number of times the bark occurs) can signal the dog’s level of excitement. An alarmed dog will utter more barks in a row than one who is relaxed. Likewise, a faster series of barks can signal aggression. Overall, barks can communicate many different messages ranging from excitement to fear to hunger or thirst.

An interesting fact is that all dog barking is universal! This means that over 200 breeds of dogs all speak the same language.

In addition to barking, dogs communicate through body language. Just like us, dogs use different facial expressions to signify their emotions. If you have ever witnessed the classic puppy dog face, you are already familiar with this! Signs your dog is feeling relaxed include ears pointed forwards and an open mouth. On the other hand, an anxious dog might avoid eye contact, clench their teeth and let their ears fall to the side. A dog who is trying to scare you would stare at you directly with their ears pointed forward and tears bared, while a fearful dog would have dilated pupils and a tense jaw.

Beyond just facial expressions, dogs can use the wag of their tail to ask for attention or the pat of their paw to suggest playtime. Additionally, dogs can use movements of their head to speak. A bowed head often signals submission while a head held high signifies a challenge.

Now that you know all of this information about dog communication, I can imagine you are interested in finding out what our role as dog-owners is in all of this.

So, can we speak dog?

According to the results of one study conducted in Hungary, humans are much better at understanding dog barks than we might think. Even non-dog owners were able to successfully match prerecorded barks to different situations. The participants were also able to classify dog barks into different emotions by pitch.

If you are still interested in speaking dog, take this test to find out how skilled you are at identifying different barks!

Although it's unfortunately impossible for us to have conversations with our dog about the weather or our weekend plans, we can use our new knowledge about dog communication to better understand what our dogs are trying to tell us and become more empathetic owners to our wonderful, furry friends!


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