Dog Manual


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.

Of 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 perfectly.

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.