Are You Barking at Me? Learn How To Talk to Your Dog

Are You Barking at Me? Learn How To Talk to Your Dog

Key Points

  • When you talk to your dog, it strengthens your bond.

  • Your tone of voice is important when you talk to your dog.

  • There are ways that your dog talks to you.

Admit it –- you talk to your dog when no one is around. There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s good for you both because it strengthens your bond and provides reassurance especially if your dog has anxiety. You may be different species, but that doesn’t mean there is no way to communicate.

When you talk to your dog, there are important things to keep in mind, including body language and tone of voice. There are also ways that your dog talks back. You just have to be willing to listen and respond appropriately.

The Benefits of Talking to Your Dog

Your dog isn’t a mind-reader, so, for them to do what you want, they must receive a command or directive. When they obey a command or do something good, you want to give them praise. A treat is good for training, but carrying around a box of biscuits wherever you go isn't feasible. A simple “good boy” or scratch behind the ear suffices.

Besides giving praise, there are several other reasons why it's good to talk to your dog.


Dogs often respond well to hand signals, but there are times when your dog is not able to see you when you are giving a directive. You must use your voice to get your message across clearly. Calling for them especially comes in handy if your dog has a wide open area to roam.

There also may be times when your dog is heading into danger. You want to convey urgency in your voice to stop them before they run out onto a busy street or highway. If your dog has any aggressive tendencies, you want to be able to stop them before causing harm as well.

Owner using hang signal with dog

Create a Bond

In an article published in Animal Cognition, researchers Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe performed a study at the University of York in the United Kingdom about using “baby talk” with your dog. The same high-pitched, affectionate voice that people use with infants is commonly used with dogs as well. Many people have similar feelings for their pets as for children, even referring to them as "fur babies." They set out to learn if this type of speech has the same bonding effect with dogs.

Their study found that dogs were more attentive toward what they call dog-directed speech than adult-directed. The researchers suggest that this type of speech not only improves attention but increases social bonding as well. They also found that, like human infants, puppies are more sensitive to higher-pitched vocal differences than adult dogs.

Reduce Anxiety

Many dogs suffer from different types of anxiety brought on by various stimuli like loud noises, unfamiliar people or animals, certain objects like collars or crates, and separation from their owners. When you see that your dog has a scared reaction, you want to soothe them.

In an article for VCA Hospitals, veterinarians Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM, and Lynn Buzhardt, DVM write about five different tones that dogs understand: cheerful, disappointed, soft and reassuring, firm, and cautious. When you know a dog distinguishes these differences, it is crucial to be aware of your tone of voice -- especially when you have a dog with anxiety.

Another way to communicate your love for your dog is by buying things for them that ease their anxiety like a calming dog bed. This tells them that you care about them even when you’re not able to be with them 24/7. If your dog is a burrower or snuggler, a calming blanket tells them you love them as well.

How To Say Hello in a Dog’s Language

Do you go up to a stranger on the street and start ruffling their hair, and saying, “Who’s a good boy?” If you do, maybe you need to get out more often. Most people, however, probably don’t appreciate those types of gestures and dogs don’t either. In fact, sometimes it's very dangerous.

Dogs aren’t able to tell you in words that they prefer that you leave them alone. They rely on their owners to be their “voice,” because the owners know them best. The dog may be wagging their tail and looking at you, but those are not always indications of friendliness.

Woman talking to dog

Stephanie Gibeault, MSc, is a freelance writer with a specialization in animal behavior and a certified professional dog trainer. She gives advice on how to greet a dog you don’t know. First and foremost, always ask permission from the dog's owner.

After obtaining permission from the owner, you need to ask the dog. Gibeault says to wait for the dog to approach you to know if they want to meet you. If they don’t move forward or even sit or step back, take that as a sign not to bother them.

Even when the owner gives permission, they don’t always know what their dog is feeling. They may not be able to read their dog’s body language, so you must be responsible for doing so. If the dog is unsure about you, there are ways to make yourself more approachable.

“To make yourself appear as friendly as possible,” Gibeault says, “turn your body slightly to the side and look at the dog with your peripheral vision. In dog language, head-on approaches and direct eye contact are threatening, so avoid them if possible. You can also kneel down to the dog’s level so you aren’t looming overhead. However, if you are in any way uncertain about the dog, stay standing. After all, kneeling will put your face at bite level.”

She says dogs use their nose to say hello so offer your fist for them to sniff if they choose. Avoid patting or petting them on the top of their head and never try to hug the dog. Hugs make dogs uncomfortable because they feel they are being restrained. Pet or scratch them on their side or under their chin. Also, don't make sudden movements to avoid scaring them.

People petting dog

You've learned how to say hello to a dog you don't know, but maybe you want to learn to talk to your dog or one that is more familiar to you.

Tips for Talking to Your Dog

Dog trainers and behaviorists say that the average dog has an intelligence similar to that of a toddler and has the potential to learn between 100 and 200 words. Each dog is different so that number varies. Before you expect your dog to understand what you're saying, you must teach them some words.

No matter how many words your dog learns, there are some things to keep in mind when speaking to them.

Keep It Simple

There is no need to overcomplicate your instructions. Keep your commands to one or two words. Do not keep repeating the command. Say it once and give your dog time to respond. Dogs, like toddlers, also have short attention spans, so don’t give more than one command at a time.

Be Consistent

If you choose to use the word “here” when you want them to come to you, but then later use “come,” this confuses them. Choose one word and stick with it. When you’re choosing commands, make sure they sound different from each other so the dog isn’t confused.

Owner talking to dog

Watch Your Tone

As noted earlier, dogs recognize and respond to a human’s tone of voice. They distinguish between and respond differently to a soft or high-pitched tone than to a low-pitched, authoritative voice. If you talk to your dog using words that they haven’t learned or associated with anything, it simply sounds like babble. The tone, in this case, means more than the words themselves.

Give Positive Reinforcement

Your dog has no reason to follow your instruction if they aren’t getting anything out of it. Never punish your dog for not obeying a command. Instead, use positive reinforcement to encourage the desired response.

Positive reinforcement doesn’t always have to be an edible treat. Dogs enjoy praise and pets from their owners. This display of love is well-received by your dog and they are more likely to perform positively. Start with treats and then, as training progresses, replace them with words of praise, attention, and physical touch.

Listen to Your Dog

Communication is a two-way street. It is important to listen to your dog by paying attention to their body language and vocalizations. This helps you to understand their needs and respond appropriately. 

Your dog has a limited attention span, so keep your teaching sessions short. Watch their body language and if they are losing interest, end the session and pick it up later. Barks and whines indicate their feelings as well and as you get to know your dog, you learn what they are trying to communicate.

Dogs Talking Back

Some dogs bark or whine when they want to go outside but some aren't as vocal. They may simply sit by the door and wait for you to open it. If you’re busy, their physical cues go unnoticed. It's helpful in these cases to have an auditory signal that alerts you to what your dog needs.

You may have seen some popular videos on YouTube or TikTok of dogs that use buttons to communicate. These dog talk buttons are an innovative way for your dog to let you know what they need or want. First, you have to teach the dog how to use them.

Dr. Manette Kohler, DVM, provides animal behavior consultations for cats and dogs in Southeast Wisconsin and has been a freelance writer and columnist for Dog World and Fetch magazines. In an article for PetMD she writes about how talking dog buttons work and gives tips for teaching them.

Man speaking to his dog

Kohler says, “Your dog will learn to use the buttons by watching you use them. This is called modeling, and you’ll teach your dog when to use the button by pushing it at the appropriate time. For example, you would say ‘Food,’ push the ‘Food’ button at mealtime, and then give your dog their food. Or you would press the ‘Outside’ button and then take your dog outside.”

Other things that Kohler suggests are going slow, keeping the buttons in a central location, not ignoring other communication cues your dog is giving you, and never forcing your dog to use the buttons. Rather than picking up their paw and placing it on the button, return to the modeling behavior. It may take some time, but consistency is key.

FluentPet’s button system connects to an app on your phone, so basically, your dog sends you a text! A dog named Bunny used the original version and they have over eight million followers on TikTok

This technologically updated version is helpful when you are out of the house and get a text from your dog that they need to go outside. As long as you’re nearby, you go back to let them out to do their business.

Just for Fun

There is an app called “My Talking Pet” by ShareMob that allows you to take a photo of your pet, make them speak realistically, and share it as a video. Download it for free, but be aware that there is a limited amount of shares and record time. They offer a three-day free trial and an option to auto-renew your subscription for a yearly fee. It’s a fun way to give your dog a “voice.”

There are also translator apps that allow you to speak to your dog, but these are all for entertainment purposes. No one has developed technology that provides English-to-bark translations.

Girl with dog in grass

Talk It Out

When you talk to your dog, they understand more than you may realize. They don't comprehend all of the individual words, but through your tone of voice and body language, they perceive a message. Be aware of subtle cues you’re giving to avoid sending the wrong message.

Pay attention to your dog’s different styles of language as well because they are communicating with you too. With attentiveness and patience, cross that bark barrier and talk to your dog in a way that they understand. When you communicate love, you receive love in return.

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