Most dog owners will vouch for
the ability of their animals to
understand language. This they will proudly demonstrate with a variety
of commands, and they will elicit reactions of joviality with endearing
words or attitudes of cowering or fear with harsh ones. While these
responses would appear to be strongly indicative of language
understanding, the fact is that a dog learns to appreciate the tone of
voice and not the actual words. Thus a dog may wag its tail when it is
told in a friendly tone that it is going to be beaten; or it may cower
if it is told in a harsh voice that it is to be given a marrow bone.
course some clever dogs will react sensibly to specific word commands
spoken in an even tone; but even this does not necessarily imply
understanding of the words. It is usually a conditioned response
wherein the animal learns to react properly in order to avoid
punishment or to anticipate some reward.
None the less, dogs are able to communicate with one another. They do
not speak words or engage in conversations as we do, but they
communicate by sounds, movements, and smells. Thus a dog may growl,
snarl, whine, bark, bare its teeth, or lift a paw, or its hair may
stand on end. Through sounds and movements of this sort dogs express
their emotional states. Thus, by the tone of the voice combined with
associated bodily movements, these animals may express fear, pain,
excitement, pleasure, and the like, which other dogs seem to understand
It is well known that dogs can recognize each other by their
smells, and it is generally supposed that one of the functions of the
frequent urinations of the dog
is to leave a calling card for its companions.
For the most part the language of dogs is instinctive rather than
learned. Dogs may instinctively cry for food when they are very young,
but they learn to beg for it later on. A dog may also learn to paw at a
door until it is opened. Endless examples of this type may be given.
But for the most part, dog language seems to be a matter of instinct.