Do they really understand?

OK — so I do believe that dogs understand more than a lot of people give them credit for.  Some think it is just your tone or some key words that they are actually responding to and picking up on.  I think differently — I have seen the girls (and other dogs I have had in the past) perk up when I have said things in a wide variety of tones and different wording… I am convinced that it is NOT just my enthusiastic voice or the word “biscuit” that sends them into a mad dash for the kitchen cabinet that houses their favorite treats!

But – how much do they REALLY understand?  Can they grasp what I’m talking about when I hold a full conversation with them?  Will they remember our talk about what they should or shouldn’t do during a particular situation and actually do (or not do) it?  I obviously think the girls do fully understand — I actually spend time “reasoning” with them and talking to them like I would a child…..I know, you probably think that the men in the white coats are waiting outside to take me to my padded cell…..

Here are some of my more successful “conversations”:

  • On the subject of ensuring Megan has her favorite toy available during the day to keep her occupied:
    • “Now, you know you’ll be sorry if you leave that ball in the bedroom.  I’m going to be shutting the door and you won’t have it to play with and you’ll only end up getting yourself into trouble or have to play with one of the toys you don’t really like.”
    • Result – she goes and gets her ball and takes it into the living room! 
  • On the subject of trying to save what is left of my furniture, I leave the house with this last word of advice before I head out for work each day:
    • “OK, I’m off to work now.  I’ll be back soon.  You girls be good.  Have a nice day.  Play nice with each other.  Don’t eat the couch.  Bye, now.  Don’t eat the couch.”
    • Result – no new furniture destructions have occurred since I started saying this every day – obviously they didn’t know before then that this was something they shouldn’t do – now they’ve been told!
  • On the subject of stopping them from getting too rough when they play and making one or more really mad about it:
    • “Hey!  That’s your sister!  You’re supposed to love each other!  If you p*** her off too bad, she might not ever want to play with you anymore – then where would you be – who would you have to play with?”
    • Result – longer and longer periods of more “loving” interactions between them all and less taking the rough housing too far!
  • On the subject of anything they did that I’m not happy with:
    • “What did you do?  You’ve really gotta stop being such little brats!  I am NOT happy right now!  You better just go lay down somewhere and not come near me until I cool off!  This was totally unacceptable!”
    • Result – (regardless of whether or not whatever they did made this conversation come out with an angry tone) they hang their head and give me space and time to cool off and after a while they come up cautiously to apologize and make nice with me!
  • On the subject of not being ready to come inside when I need them to (usually not a problem, but if they are on a mission or totally engrossed in something, it can be a challenge getting them to come in):
    • “OK, I’m not waiting any longer.  You can just stay out there all day (night) cause I’m leaving and you’ll just have to be stuck!  Good bye!” and I close the door and (if at night) shut out the light.
    • Result – they usually come running so they don’t get left outside!  This tends to work even if the use of the word “biscuit” or shaking the treat box doesn’t get their attention – it shows them this is their last chance and they take it!

Now, I obviously also use the important key words when I need to be sure they understand — down, sit, stay, come, stop, etc….I’m not totally oblivious to the fact that they are NOT children and need consistent commands that they can clearly understand and know what is expected of them — but I also truly believe that they do become accustomed to the way their human families talk to them and the words they use!  Just like children – they aren’t born knowing how to put a sentence together and they don’t get the formal education on the parts and structure of a sentence until they get into school, but they learn how to put a fairly decent string of words together to make a sentence by listening to their parents and siblings…….

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

One Comment on “Do they really understand?

  1. Kim,
    I am so with you on this. It amazes me the things my dogs do sometimes when I’m not using their “words” in talking to them.

    By the way, the “If you p*** them off…” comment made me laugh out loud!!

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