Why Can’t Dogs Talk? Will They Ever Speak?

why can't dogs talk
© iStock.com/Eva Blanco

Written by Angie Menjivar

Updated: October 15, 2022

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Quick Answer:

  • Scientists have studied whether or not dogs can tell the difference between similar-sounding words and concluded that they can’t quite make those distinctions.
  • Your dog may understand the difference between “sit” and “stay” but if you start using the word “set” with your dog it sounds like “sit.”
  • Dogs maintain the mind of a toddler, which limits their communication abilities. Given their role in the family dynamic, dogs will likely never evolve to be able to speak.

Imagine sitting across from your pup in the morning, sharing some bacon pieces, and talking about the plans for the day. It’s a comical thought but gosh, don’t you wonder why can’t dogs talk? Will they ever speak? Sometimes, it feels like the communication you have with your pup is telepathic, especially if you’ve bonded since he was a puppy.

But there are always instances when you wish you could get some feedback. You likely talk to your dog as much as he’ll listen and sometimes when he cocks his head back and forth, ears perked up curiously, you wonder if he understands a dang thing you’re saying.

In this article, we explore if it’s possible for dogs to talk, what would happen if they could, and how many words they can actually remember. We also share some creative products that can help you communicate better with your pup—all to make your bond just a little bit stronger!

Is It Possible for Dogs to Talk?

Sure, your furball is expressive and those eyes can deliver a barrage of messages. But no matter how many whiny sounds, funny paw pats, or spins your dog does, he can’t form a sentence to let you know exactly what he wants. You’ve come to understand his body language and antics but sometimes you wish you knew exactly what your pup is saying.

Especially when he’s not feeling well. Those are the moments when, more than anything, you wish you could have a conversation with your furball. You’d like to know exactly where it hurts and do everything in your power to comfort and nurse your babe back to health. So, is it possible for dogs to talk?

Unfortunately, everything we know points to no. They may try with growls and barks, and they may even be able to mimic words you’ve taught them. However, scientists have explored whether dogs can tell the difference between similar-sounding words, and they can’t quite make those distinctions.

For example, your dog may understand the difference between “sit” and “stay” but if you start using the word “set” with your dog it just sounds like “sit.” Same thing with words that rhyme or otherwise have similar sounds. It’s much like trying to teach a toddler the difference between “teapot” and “Tupac.” One was a revered rapper and the other holds hot liquid—but to a toddler, they sound the same.

The difference is that as human babies develop, their cognitive abilities develop as well. With dogs, it’s like they maintain the mind of a toddler, which means they have more limitations. Because of this and the role they take on within human households, it is highly unlikely that they will evolve to speak in the same way humans do.

A little girl and her dog communicating with each other. Dogs can understand quite a few words and also understand their person’s body language.


What Would Happen If Dogs Could Talk?

Well, what a world that would be! It would be an incredible experience to sit and have a conversation with your dog. You might be surprised by their childlike wisdom, and you would surely share some rolling-on-the-ground laughing sessions, reminiscing about all your fun adventures together.

When you notice a behavior change, you would be able to directly ask what’s going on to learn what’s upsetting your pup. And perhaps the most important change that would occur is you’d know how to better care for your dog’s health. If his tummy is upset, he could let you know right away.

Being able to thoroughly understand symptoms would put you and your vet in the optimal position to follow through with proper treatment without any guesswork. Sometimes dogs hide their pain or express very few symptoms—but with daily communication, you could forge a bond with your canine companion that would allow for regular health check-ins.

Neglected or abused dogs could ask for help. Dogs that show signs of aggression could be worked with. Over time, many more dogs would get a new lease on life, with fewer people misunderstanding and mistreating them.

Dogs are protectors. They love their human counterparts and when they spot a potential threat, their ears perk up their posture changes, and they bark or growl to let you know something is afoot. Instead of resorting to growls or barks, they could whisper what they know, so you could act proactively.

They would be able to communicate what their senses detect, helping you locate lost pets or people, warning you of incoming adverse weather, and keeping you safe from other humans with bad intentions. Of course, if this were possible, that means dogs would have evolved cognitively to be human-like.

If that were the case, they would then have to be given human rights. Although this would make them independent and no longer eligible for the role of pets, you could certainly still share a home as best friends and roommates. They would have full autonomy, adopt different roles in society, and adjust to their new status.

The Scientific Reason Dogs Can’t Talk

Surprisingly, dogs have vocal cords similar to those of humans. It’s not their biological limitations so much as their cognitive limitations that prevent them from speaking. Your dog can vocalize in different ways to notify you of different wants and needs—plus, dogs combine body language with these vocalizations to convey meaning.

However, since their cognitive functioning hasn’t evolved, they are unable to master the complexity of human language. Even if you can get your dog to mimic the words, “I love you,” that is the extent to which he will be able to communicate with you verbally.

How Many Words Can Dogs Understand?

Remember how we said dogs are like forever toddlers? Well, it’s estimated that dogs can comprehend somewhere between 150 to 165 words, much like a two or three-year-old child. They can reach this level with consistent training—however, if you don’t dedicate a lot of time to learning new words, your dog may only understand a fraction of these numbers.

Your dog’s breed is also a factor when it comes to how many words can be understood. Some breeds are known for their advanced cognitive functioning, like German Shepherds and Poodles. With the right training, these intelligent pups could master upwards of 200 words.

why can't dogs talk
Poodles are very intelligent dogs that can learn up to 200 words.


Products That Help You Talk to Your Dog

You’ve probably come across a video or two on social media of dogs pressing buttons with pre-recorded words to communicate with their pet parents. They may press “walk” or “snuggle” to indicate they’d like to take a stroll outside or would like some affection from their humans. Below, we share three of the top-selling recording buttons, each at a different price point so you can dabble and slowly evolve your recording button game with your pup.

OFVENS Voice Recording Button, Dog Buttons for Communication

Not every dog picks up on these recording buttons. It might be a gamble with yours so to get started, be sure to select a budget-friendly option with just four simple buttons. These allow for a clear recording that’s up to 20 seconds long, though you won’t need to record for that long. Typically, you’ll just record a simple word or phrase. These are a great starting set that helps you train your pup to communicate with you.

They’re super easy to use. All you need to do is click the record button, begin to record your voice message after you hear the beep, then release the button after you finished your recording. To confirm that you recorded correctly, you’ll hear two beeps. Then, press the button and hear how your recording sounds. These buttons work with batteries and can be disassembled without any tools. They’re made of ABS plastic, which is natural and environmentally friendly. Batteries are not included.

BOSKEY Set of 8, Dog Voice Training Buzzer

When you’re ready to upgrade, you can check out this Boskey set of eight dog speech training buzzers. These allow for simple communication. Start with daily routines after your dog has become accustomed to the different sounds. Make sure you place these where your dog is most active. Allowing easy access to them encourages your dog to use them to communicate with you. Train by associating an activity with the sound you record.

Recording is easy. Just set the switch to “record” and when you hear a single beep, you’ll have 10 seconds to record a word or phrase. A double beep signifies a successful recording. To make sure that you get the best sound quality, keep the audio source about eight inches from the microphone. Next, just switch it over to “play” mode and with a short press, you’ll hear the playback. These come in eight different colors, and you can label the sound separately for each colored button.

My Dog Talks 12 recordable Training Buttons, 3 mats & 24 ‘First Words’ Stickers

When your dog has expanded his vocabulary, you can try out these 12 recordable training buttons. They also come with three mats and 24 first-word stickers. The 12 compact buttons help you train your pet to talk to you by easily pressing the buttons to say one of the recorded words. The three interlocking mats hold up to six buttons each. They’re made with durable and nonslip material with three different designs that allow you to organize your words into groups. For example, you can have a group that refers to people in your household and another group that refers to your dog’s favorite activities.

This package also comes with 24 icon stickers that you can use for each of your buttons. These are super simple and clear pictures that demonstrate commonly used words. These can help both you and your dog get acquainted! When you record, you push a smaller button found on the bottom of each button. This way, even if your dog keeps his paw pressed on top of the button, it will not delete any previously completed recordings. With this set, you also get preinstalled batteries included with your purchase!

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About the Author

Angie Menjivar is a writer at A-Z-Animals primarily covering pets, wildlife, and the human spirit. She has 14 years of experience, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and continues her studies into human behavior, working as a copywriter in the mental health space. She resides in North Carolina, where she's fallen in love with thunderstorms and uses them as an excuse to get extra cuddles from her three cats.

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