How your Dog Recognizes your Voice? + Benefits of Talking with Your Dog

perro pastor aleman girando la cabeza

Translated by Nick R

Is my dog listening to me or does it even understand what I am saying? – These are questions you may wonder when talking to your dog. Maybe it hears babbling or even understands a word.

But don’t worry, you came to the right place because here I’ll explain in detail how a dog understands a person’s voice and what implies this.

How a dog perceives the human voice 

Dogs have undergone a domestication process for approximately 13,000 years, according to a study published in 2013 in the scientific studies portal Science.

Taking into account this long process, a study was conducted in 2005 by the journal of Comparative Psychology that showed the phonetic effects of humans on the canine’s hearing.

Thanks to sharing with humans, it has been easier for them to understand our phonemics. Although a dog won’t be able to understand words as a human can, it will be able to associate those phonemes with an action.

How do dogs recognize speech? 

Dogs recognize speech with their left brain hemisphere and emotions with their right brain hemisphere, just as humans do.

These findings are from a 2014 study by Victoria Ratcliffe and David Reby, who are part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Salisbury, Wiltshire, and the Mammalian Vocal Communication and Cognition Research Group in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, Brighton respectively, located in the UK.

Do dogs understand words? 

According to the study, the dogs were told a familiar command: “come on then”, which they had learned with a positive intonation. They changed its intensity to a normal intonation and then to a neutral intonation.

The dogs responded by turning their head to the right which showed that dogs are sensitive to phonemic content (verbally articulated sounds) regardless of how that content is delivered. That is, they react to sounds regardless of the words articulated; whether they are verbalized or babbled to them.

This signal was reflected in their left hemisphere, which confirms that they interpret speech in the same way as people do.

This is also similar to the left hemisphere response in humans, where both the “phonemic content of natural speech” and “sine-wave vocal signals” are understood and processed, the latter referring to the perception of the identical sound of speech and non-speech.

That is, the left hemisphere identifies the sound with either a specific word or a consonant or vowel.

Do dogs understand emotions?

During this part of the study, dogs were given the same familiar command “come on then”, except that it was introduced as a non-understandable vocal stimulus with similar phonemes such as “thon om ken”, yet with positive emotional prosody.

Vocal stimulus refers to something that is said to sound similar to a voice command but makes no sense at all.

Emotional prosody is when the speaker “expresses affective content in the message,” such as joy or fear that changes according to the pitch and volume used.

This stimulus resulted in the dogs making a turn to the left. This shows that when phonemic signals are neutral and the emotional prosodic signals highlighted, the response is reflected in the right hemisphere.

It was also found that canines are sensitive to emotional valence in the auditory regions of the right hemisphere, meaning that they differentiate a positive emotion such as enthusiasm from a negative emotion such as anger.

This occurs in the concept called conespecificity (meaning that it has a “consistent relationship in belonging to the same species”), i.e., among canines they differentiate when they express some emotion with their barking, for example. The same is true of human nonverbal vocalizations.

Similarly, humans can give this same response when we’re exposed to the articulation of animal sounds with prominent affective content, regardless of familiarity with the species. An example of this may be the purr of cats.

Can dogs differentiate each person’s voice? 

You may have wondered if your dog can differentiate your voice from others, and of course, it can. A study also conducted by Ratcliffe in 2014 proved it. This one was conducted on 51 dogs of 17 breeds.

Can dogs differentiate voice based on gender? 

His experiment consisted of putting a dog in front of a loudspeaker and next to it a male and a female were positioned. After this, they played the voice of a man or a woman through the loudspeaker. The aim was to see who the canine looked at when hearing their voice.

As a result, approximately 80% of the dogs did associate the voice with the gender of the person. This is because they came from a household with three or more people, thus allowing them to get used to and better associate the voice with the corresponding person.

On the other hand, the dogs that responded to only one gender (71%) came from a household with only one person. This made them adapt only to that voice, whether female or male.

This study shows that dogs can associate a human trait (gender) from an association of the voice with a visual representation of the person.

Can dogs differentiate between a familiar and unfamiliar voice? 

However, Ratcliffe together with Reby conducted a study again in 2019 where they wanted to demonstrate whether it was possible for canines to identify an unfamiliar individual’s speech.

For this research, they used stimuli with the function of habituating and dishabituating in order to interpret the dogs’ responses. This means that the dog would become habituated if it received consecutive signals with the same characteristic, but if it received a message of different characteristics, it would not be familiar with it.

As a result, it was demonstrated that the canines were able to classify short words that belonged to the same individual. This was based on the stimuli used in the study. This enabled them to detect when the identity of the individual changed once a new subject was presented, showing a completely new stimulus.

The stimuli used in the study were monosyllabic words with the H-vowel-D features. Some stimulus words were “had”, “head”, “hid”, “hod”, “hud”, among others. So when a stimulus other than these was introduced by a new person, the canines noticed the speaker switch.

So yes, your dog can differentiate you both by your gender and by their habit of listening to your voice and detecting when a stranger is talking to them.

Why is it good to talk to your pet? 

There are several factors that develop over time as we talk to our dogs.

Recognition and adaptation to the owner’s voice 

For example, constant communication with the dog will make it get used to its owner’s voice faster and this will allow the owner to call it or give it a command without being visually present. This means the dog will respond if you call it from another room.

Owner-dog relationship 

The control you have over your pet will grow stronger. As dogs are known to understand emotions, it will clearly try to always act well in order to avoid negative stimuli.

Visual learning 

For the canine to better understand words, you need to create a visual association every time you introduce a new word or use a word a lot. For example, by showing a toy while saying “toy”, your canine will be able to group and interpret the information better. This will help to increase the canine’s vocabulary, developing its cognitive capacity.

Reinforcing the emotional bond 

The bond between owner and pet will become closer when talking to the canine in a certain way.  What is called “dog talk” or “natural dog talk” allows the canine to feel better because it understands there is a close relationship with its owner.

The “dog talk” is the same as how you would talk to a baby, being affectionate, spoiling him, praising him, all with the characteristic high-pitched and happy tone of talking to our furries.

This was demonstrated by a study published in the journal Animal Cognition conducted in 2018 by researchers Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe from the University of York in the UK.

In the research, they wanted to demonstrate whether the way we talk to a baby could work and have connotations on a dog’s behavior as well, and see if their bond was affected by such communication.

The study consisted of interacting with the dogs first with normal speech used in a conversation without talking directly to the dogs and secondly, interacting with the dogs, but now talking directly to them using “dog talk”.

As a result, it was observed that after the study was completed, the dogs wanted to interact more with those who used the ‘dog talk’ speech and spoke to them directly.

How does a person’s voice affect a dog? 

Although dogs don’t understand most of the words, what they definitely do process is how you say them. Canines will show a response according to the tone and volume you use regardless of the words.

So says veterinarian Ryan Llera, who is part of VCA Hospitals, a large network of animal hospitals in the United States and Canada.


The pitch refers to how high or low a sound is. To understand the differences in pitch, one must know the different sensations produced by each. The book “Helping children who are deaf” by Hesperian, Health Guides web portal, explains the characteristics of each one.

On the one hand, we have the high or acute pitch, which is a light sound; while the low or deep pitch is a louder sound.

The pitch indicates both the intention and the emotions we want to express based on the type of intonation we use.

This means that by using love, sadness, or worry pitch the canine will understand that auditory stimulus. For example, when you say compliments to your dog such as “who’s pretty” or “you’re a good boy” using a high-pitched, loving tone.


On the other hand, for dogs is easier to understand volume. It can be categorized into intensity: how loudly a sound is expressed (loud or soft).

The canine will react depending on which action it has associated with such volume intensity. For example, the dog will respond submissively to a shout of NO when it knows it behaved badly.

What does the dog understand exactly? 

Well, dogs respond to the volume and intonation we use when talking to them, regardless of what we’re saying. In training there are 5 combinations of pitch and volume, which are usually accompanied by visual aids, either performing an action or showing a facial gesture. This is stated by Llera in the article published on the VCA Hospitals website.


– Loud volume and high-pitched tone

When we talk to our dog cheerfully, telling it compliments or that we want to play with it, it will perceive the emotion and respond physically by wagging its tail, for example. In addition, this tone will allow the canine to associate better with the fact that it did something well and that its owner feels happy.


– Low volume and low pitch

This way the dog will realize something has happened. It can be complemented with a frown or a sign indicating that what it did is not right. This will help your dog understand when it did something wrong.


– Low volume and high-pitched tone

Through this combination, we show affection and tenderness for our dog. The soft and soothing intonation can be used when you want to pet or express love to your pet. The canine will interpret this as a reminder of its owner’s love and will strengthen its bond with them.


– Low volume and low tone

Use a firm voice when giving your dog a command or correcting its behavior. This will build respect for you and help it recognize you as its master. You have to associate this with actions so that the canine understands better and obeys the command correctly.


– High volume and high or low pitched tone

This may be used to warn your canine about a dangerous situation. It is important to use it in emergencies to call the dog’s attention immediately. When used often the dog may change its interpretation and it won’t work anymore.


Both men and women have different ways of speaking, either with a low tone for men or with a higher tone for women. That’s why we need to modulate our voice to make it clear what we want our pet to understand.

Also, remember to accompany these expressions with actions so that there is a better association and understanding by the canine. To conclude, it’s of vital importance that you communicate with your furry friend for different reasons that are beneficial for both of you. As you have already seen, as you talk to your canine, it will learn what it should and should not do. This will clearly strengthen the bond between the two of you and guarantee a life full of love and happiness for your pet.