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Can Dogs Understand English? Facts & FAQ

Written by: Wendy Newell

Last Updated on March 12, 2024 by Dogster Team

Can Dogs Understand English? Facts & FAQ

I speak English. Riggins, my 11-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer, speaks Dog. These are two entirely different languages, and I realized recently that it’s for the best that sometimes he can’t interpret the words coming out of my mouth.

I can guarantee you that right this second, as Riggins sits next to me pawing at my arm, that his whines translate into, “OMG I’M SO HUNGRY. Seriously, if you don’t feed me a snack right now, I’m going to collapse and die of hunger. I realize you fed me dinner just a few short hours ago, but it obviously didn’t stick because I’m starving once again. Help. Feed me. Come on. Just a small snack. WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME? IF YOU LOVED ME YOU’D GIVE ME A TREAT!!!”

Honest. I know him well. That’s what his dog language translates into. That being said, there are times when I’m super happy that all of my English doesn’t translate into Dog.

1. When I lie

Riggins and his friend Frankie on a walk. "Don't listen to her Frankie. We aren't close to being done." (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Riggins and his friend Frankie on a walk. “Don’t listen to her, Frankie. We aren’t close to being done.” (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Don’t look at me like that, readers. Parents lie to their human kids all the time, “If you keep making that face, it’s going to stay like that” — LIE. “I know it’s March, but if you don’t behave, Santa won’t come see you in December” — LIE. “Sprout is totally as interesting as HBO” — LIE. It’s only fair that I would lie to my sweet baby boy. It’s a mom thing.

When we are hiking and I can see Riggins pooping out, I’ll cheerfully chant, “Come on. We’re almost there.” We aren’t. When other dogs join us, I swear Riggins looks at them and rolls his eyes as if to say, “Don’t believe her. She’s a liar.” He isn’t really doing that, of course, because he doesn’t speak English.

2. During my moments of road rage

Riggins will never repeat my road rage words! (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Riggins will never repeat my road rage words! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Let’s be real here. If Riggins spoke English like a human child, he would be dropping F bombs at preschool. Just doing what mommy does.

I live in Los Angeles, and I’m a type A personality. That means road rage is like a sport to me. It makes most humans uncomfortable. They don’t understand that screaming curse words at the top of my lungs to the driver next to me is actually a stress reliever.

Luckily for me, my sweet baby boy calmly sits in the back seat, carefully buckled into his doggie seat belt, staring out the window, completely ignorant of his mommy going crazy up front.

3. When I sound crazy

Riggins never completely understands me! (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Riggins never completely understands me! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins can’t understand me, so why do I act like he does? I’m an insane dog person, that’s why. I will come in from running an errand and ask him, “Hi sweet boy. How are you?” When he doesn’t answer, I follow up with, “Huh? How are you doing my baby boy?”

What do I expect to happen? For him to calmly reply, “Well, mother, I was just sleeping, and then you left to go to Target, so I got up for a second but then decided to nap again and just woke up when I heard your key in the lock.”

It doesn’t matter that I realize he will never answer me. I still ask him the same question over and over and over again. Thank goodness Riggins doesn’t understand what’s happening, or he may fear for our household’s safety at the hands of an insane person.

4. When I’m wrong

Riggins and Wendy (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Riggins and Wendy (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins is the best self-esteem coach on the planet. As far as he is concerned, I’m never ever incorrect. In his dog world, everything I say is solidly based in fact.

The other day, we were driving home from visiting my parents and I was singing to the radio at the top of my lungs, as I do. Riggins is used to this and is very adorably tolerant of his mom’s inability to hold a tune. At one point, I happily sang out with Taylor Swift, “Walking the streets with you and your one-eyed jeans.” Riggins knew the line well. I have always sang it like that. Then it hit me, It’s not “one-eyed jeans,” it’s “worn-out jeans.” I laughed until I cried. When I asked Riggins if he could believe how ridiculous it was that I had gotten that lyric wrong for so long, he looked at me as if to say, “If you say it’s one-eyed jeans, then I’m all in with you mom. Let’s sing it that way forever.”

5. When I’m scolding him

He may not be looking but he hears me! (Photo by Wendy Newell)
He may not be looking, but he hears me! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

“Riggins Newell, you come over her. Riggins Newell, do you hear me? You get over here right now.” Actually I know he understands me when he hears this. His little ears perk up, and you can see him physically restraining himself from turning around to look at me. If he doesn’t acknowledge he has heard me, it’s like it never happened? Right? Right!

Riggins and I can understand each other, but I am lucky that he will never learn to speak English, not matter how hard he tries!

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