Lovers of cats and dogs have debated an age old question ambitiously and with great fervor: Do dogs and cats actually understand us when we talk?
Plenty of frustrated pet owners probably would argue that the answer is undoubtedly negative, given that their dog doesn't sit when they command it and wonder aloud why their cat can't help but claw despite our decrees otherwise.
Various research and studies show that both dogs and cats understand certain words, can differentiate between the voice of a total stranger and their owner, and, especially for dogs, the tone of what's being said.
The tone aspect is especially pertinent and interesting given that dogs understand it more than the actual words said. For example, dogs can pick up on firmness or anger in a voice and will react accordingly, even if what's being said is something endearing like "I love you" or "You're the most beautiful dog in the world."
Dogs also are incredibly adept at picking up whether you're happy, sad, tired or sick, even if you're not outwardly expressing your emotions to them. That's part of them being able to understand the tone in your voice, regardless of whether you're talking directly to them or not.
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That said, dogs do pick up on certain words for what they are: sit, stay, go, heel and other basic commands. Their vocabulary is limited but complete enough to keep the peace between man and his best friends.
Some suggest that dogs also can recognize their owners faces and actively communicate with just a minor shift of their eyes or brows. There's also enough studies done that prove dogs also are distracted easily by other dogs and prefer them over their owners.
Cats are relatively the same as far as being able to pick up on a modicum of messages spouted off by their owners, but questions abound as to whether cats actually are paying attention. They can pick up on voices and know their owners when they speak, but cats generally don't care much to follow orders and hardly parallel dogs equally from a loyalty standpoint.
Of course, these types of studies are just that: controlled observations with a particular group of cats or dogs. Owners may have other ideas when it comes to just how well dogs and cats listen to them.
One thing about dogs and cats that can't be questioned is that they have some level of interpretation skills that stretch far beyond the basics. These pets aren't humans, as some owners lovingly suggest, in how they compute communication but they're hardly pedestrian, either.
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