What Language do Labradors Understand? (It’s Not What You Think)

Ever wondered which language tickles a Labrador’s ears just right? Pondering if these loyal companions favor certain commands or dialects over others?

Look no further!

Here’s A Brief Overview of What Language Do Labradors Understand:

Labradors don’t grasp languages like we do. Still, they’ve got a knack for detecting nuances in tone. This makes them particularly responsive to languages with high-pitched tonal variations, such as Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. And their fine-tuned auditory senses play a massive part in this. But it isn’t just about words — Labradors are masters of body language interpretation.

A hand movement, a shift in stance or even a subtle change in our eyes can send them a clear message. Combining their auditory prowess with their keen sense of physical cues gives them an incredible ability to understand us even if they can’t decode every word we say.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore even deeper into the specific pitches and sounds of tonal languages that truly capture a Labrador’s attention.

Plus, we’ll decode the body language cues Labradors can’t ignore and highlight 25 English Words & commands they’re most likely to follow.

And if training’s on your mind, we’ve got 11 steps to make your Lab more tuned into your words and gestures. Let’s dig in!


Note: Our articles are comprehensive and in-depth. Feel free to expand the table of contents below and skip ahead to sections that interest you.

Which Language Offers The Simplest Way to Formulate High-Pitched Words and Commands For Labradors? And Why?

1) Mandarin

With Mandarin’s four distinguished tones, it offers a sound palette that’s rich in pitch variations. Consider the word “mā” (mother).

For an English speaker, the first tone might sound like a steady calling of “Mom!” across a room. On the other hand, “mà” with a fourth tone might resemble an exasperated “Mom!”

Labradors that are celebrated for their heightened auditory senses can easily identify the distinct tonal variations.

The clearer distinction between high and low pitches makes commands in Mandarin more discernible for Labradors which allows them to react more promptly to commands.

2) Cantonese

Cantonese is another tonal language, much like Mandarin but with a more intricate system comprising six to nine tones, depending on the dialect.

For Labradors, this presents an assortment of pitch variations, making commands highly distinctive. An example for English speakers to grasp this is the word “來” (lòih) meaning ‘come’.

Compared to its Mandarin counterpart, it starts mid-tone and drops, almost like saying “Come?” in a downward questioning tone in English.

This modulation isn’t merely about the meaning of the word but is integral to the language’s structure.

Now, why would this matter to a Labrador? Dogs, especially breeds like Labradors are adept at picking up tonal nuances due to their exceptional hearing capability.

A command in Cantonese, given its pitch variation, is less likely to blend with background noise or casual speech, ensuring the dog perceives it as a distinct cue.

To the English ear, this might seem like an exaggerated change in pitch within words that makes each word sound uniquely expressive.

For Labradors, this means clearer auditory cues — allowing them to distinguish between commands more effectively.

If consistency is maintained, Cantonese-speaking trainers might find their Labrador responding with enhanced accuracy to these high-pitched, tonal commands.

3) Vietnamese

Vietnamese impressively expands the tonal range with six unique pitches.

For an English analogy, the word “ma” can range from sounding like a questioning “Ma?” to an assertive “Ma!” and even a surprised exclamation of “Ma!” in different tones.

Such pronounced tonal fluctuations provide Labradors with clear auditory markers that enables them to discern commands with heightened accuracy.

The rich pitch spectrum of Vietnamese means that even in bustling environments, a Labrador can pick out a command due to its distinct tone.

4) Thai

Encompassing five tonal pitches, Thai offers varied auditory cues. An English speaker might perceive the word “maa” in Thai as ranging from a firm command of “Come!” to a more questioning “Come?”.

For Labradors, these distinct tonal shifts are more than just sounds—they’re clear commands. With their evolved auditory senses, Labradors can segregate between these tones and ensure that commands don’t get lost in background noise.

Thai, with its varied tonal structure ensures commands are distinct and understandable even in a cacophony.

In all four tonal languages, the inherent tonal distinctions provide an assortment of high-pitched commands that Labradors can quickly discern and react to.

The sharp tonal shifts are uniquely effective which makes them potentially more receptive to cues in these languages than in non-tonal languages

6 Body Language Signals Do Labradors Respond to the Best

1) Eye Contact

Our eyes serve as a powerful channel of communication, not just for humans but for Labradors too.

When you make direct eye contact with your Labrador, it establishes a connection and indicates that you’re engaging with them. Why? Because direct eye contact establishes a channel of non-verbal communication.

For example, during training sessions, maintaining soft eye contact can convey focus and intent. However, it’s crucial to understand the difference between a hard stare and a soft gaze.

A hard, fixed stare could be interpreted as a threat by some dogs which can potentially lead to aggression.

In contrast, a gentle, loving gaze with intermittent blinking can communicate affection while building trust.

Remember, when training your Lab, always pair your gaze with positive reinforcement. The consistency in your eyes’ message helps the dog understand and respond better.

2) Hand Signals

Visual cues often transcend the barriers of vocal commands, especially in noisy environments or from a distance.

Why? Their evolutionary lineage has conditioned them to rely on body language to communicate. For Labradors, hand signals can sometimes be clearer than spoken words.

Consider the classic example of teaching a Labrador to sit. While saying “sit” might get the message across, pairing it with an upward hand motion reinforces the command — providing a visual stimulus.

Over time, many Labradors can respond to the hand signal alone, even if the verbal command isn’t given. When training, always start with pairing the vocal command with the hand gesture.

Eventually, you can test the Labrador’s response by using only the hand signal to  checking their understanding.

You might also be interested in Labradors’ exceptional sensing capabilities here: Can Labradors Sense? (Illness, Emotions, Sadness, etc) 

3) Open vs. Closed Posture

Your body posture communicates a lot about your intentions.

Why? Labradors are adept at reading body language, given that it’s a primary communication form in the animal kingdom. An open posture, where you stand facing the Labrador with arms relaxed signals approachability and friendliness.

For instance, when you’re trying to teach a new trick or want your Labrador to come closer, maintaining an open posture invites interaction.

On the other hand, a closed posture, such as crossed arms or turning away, might convey that you’re not interested or might be upset.

If, for example, your Labrador did something mischievous and you want to express mild disapproval without being aggressive, a closed posture can be a non-verbal way to communicate that sentiment.

Always be conscious of your body language, especially during training or when trying to build rapport with a new or anxious dog.

4) Bending Down

Bending down to a Labrador’s level is a profound gesture, both in significance and response.

Why? Because it’s a sign of accessibility and non-confrontation. When we stand tall, we appear larger and to some extent, intimidating.

By bending down, we minimize this disparity in size and appear more approachable. For a Labrador, this is a cue that you’re inviting interaction or providing attention.

When training or calling a dog, bending down can signal them to come closer without fear.

For example, if a Labrador is hesitant about approaching an unfamiliar object, a trainer bending down beside it can reassure the dog.

In essence, this gesture breaks barriers and allowing for a more intimate and trusting connection.

For more info on intimate connections with Labrador, check out: Why Are Labradors So Loving and Affectionate? (7 Reasons + 31 Ways Labs Show Affection)

5) Tone of Voice

Dogs, especially breeds as sensitive as Labradors, are incredibly attuned to the nuances in our tone.

Why? Their ears are designed to catch variations in frequency which is a skill essential for survival in the wild. While they might not understand the language, the tone provides them with a wealth of information.

A cheerful, high-pitched voice often denotes praise or a positive command and can motivate the Labrador to engage. Conversely, a deep, stern voice might indicate disapproval.

For instance, praising a Labrador for fetching with an excited tone reinforces the behavior, while a firm tone when they misbehave acts as a deterrent.

Understanding and using this auditory channel effectively can streamline training and communication processes.

6) Facial Expressions

Much like humans, Labradors are adept at reading facial cues. Why? They have coexisted with us for millennia and have evolved to understand our non-verbal cues to foster better companionship.

A smile with relaxed eyes indicates contentment and approval. In contrast, a furrowed brow or a stern look can signify displeasure. Labradors with their keen sense of observation can decipher these subtle cues.

For example, if you smile and have a relaxed expression after they perform a trick, they associate the action with positivity. On the other hand, showing visible disappointment when they act out can serve as a non-verbal reprimand.

By being aware of our facial expressions and ensuring they align with our intent, we can communicate more effectively with our Labradors.

25 English Words and Commands That Work Best with Labradors

1) Sit

Arguably the cornerstone of dog training, “Sit” provides a pivotal foundation. Why is this command so impactful? Because Labradors, with their vivacious spirit, can get overly excited.

The “Sit” command offers a pause button that can ensure they momentarily halt and focus on their trainer. This isn’t just about obedience; it’s about control and safety.

A simple but effective tip: Using a treat, guide their gaze upward and backward; as they look up, they’ll naturally settle into a sitting position.

2) Stay

A command that speaks volumes about discipline, “Stay” encapsulates patience and restraint. But why is this instruction so paramount?

Consider scenarios like waiting for food or holding position at a busy intersection; “Stay” ensures that the Labrador doesn’t make impulsive decisions which could be hazardous.

To instill this behavior, start with short durations and slowly increase the ‘stay’ period by always rewarding patience with affection and treats.

3) Come

The significance of “Come” is monumental, especially in unpredictable situations. Why this command?

If a Labrador is wandering too far, getting distracted or potentially venturing into harm’s way, “Come” acts as an immediate recall. It’s about safety and control.

For instilling this, practice with a long leash, allow some distance before initiating the command, pull them gently towards you, and then reward their compliance.

4) Down

More than a mere posture command, “Down” is about achieving a relaxed state. Why is it essential?

In unfamiliar or potentially stressful environments, it allows Labradors to demonstrate trust and deference. It’s a position of calm.

A training technique involves guiding them with a treat from a sitting position to lying down by moving the treat along the ground and then straight out in front of them — ensuring you reward immediately after they obey.

5) Heel

Beyond standard walking, “Heel” establishes a Labrador’s position relative to its owner. Why is this important?

It ensures the Labrador isn’t leading the way or trailing too far behind but is rather walking in harmony with its owner. It epitomizes leash discipline and mutual respect. To master this, begin in areas with minimal distractions.

Encourage them with treats to walk by your side and use the “Heel” command when they find the right spot and reward them for their positioning.

6) Off

“Off” is pivotal when your Labrador attempts to jump on furniture, people or access spaces they shouldn’t. Why is it crucial? It establishes boundaries and ensures respect for personal space.

This is especially valuable in households with children or elderly individuals where a jump can lead to injuries.

A helpful hint: Redirect their energy when they jump with a toy or treat, then use the command and reward them when they comply.

7) Drop or Leave it

This command is a lifesaver, literally. Why? Labradors, in their curiosity, often pick up harmful or unwanted items.

“Drop” or “Leave it” ensures they release or avoid these items, maintaining their safety. When training, start by offering a toy in one hand and a treat in the other.

As they go for the toy, use the command and present the treat. Over time, they’ll associate the command with relinquishing their hold.

8) Fetch

Beyond a game, “Fetch” capitalizes on the Labrador’s natural retrieval instincts. But why teach it?

It’s a way to exercise them mentally and physically. Additionally, it fosters bonding.

To train effectively, use items they’re attracted to, throw them at a reasonable distance and encourage retrieval using the command. Praise and treats upon successful returns reinforce the behavior.

9) No

A straightforward but paramount command. Why is it so fundamental? It’s the universal signifier for halting undesirable behavior.

Whether it’s aggressive play, unwanted barking or digging, “No” offers immediate correction. Consistency is key here.

Every family member should use the same tone and command for the same misbehavior to avoid confusing the dog.

10) Wait

“Wait” promotes patience and control. Why is it important? In situations like crossing the road or awaiting food, it prevents impulsive and potentially harmful actions.

Begin training by using doors or gates. Ask them to “Wait” before exiting or entering, gradually increasing the time they wait.

11) Speak

Contrary to silencing a Labrador, “Speak” teaches them to bark on cue. But why encourage barking?

When used responsibly, it can be a tool for alerting owners to intruders or issues. Plus, it can be fun!

To prompt this, use stimuli that naturally incite barking, like a doorbell or toy, then pair the bark with the command. Rewards post-bark reinforce this behavior.

12) Quiet

When your Labrador becomes vocally enthusiastic, “Quiet” is the bridge to calmness. Why is it essential?

Continuous barking can disturb neighbors, disrupt peaceful moments or mask essential sounds.

Training tip: When they bark, wait for a lull, say “Quiet” and reward their silence. It’s about reinforcing the idea that silence post-command brings treats and praises.

13) Bed or Kennel

Directing your Labrador to their “Bed” or “Kennel” creates a personal space for them. Why?

It offers a sanctuary during high-stress times, like storms or gatherings. Plus, it helps manage separation anxiety.

While training, lead them to their space with treats and use the command and rewarding them when they settle down.

14) Paw or Shake

This isn’t just an adorable party trick. Why teach it? It promotes trust between the dog and handler.

Starting with a treat in your hand, give the command. Most dogs will naturally paw at your hand to get to the treat.

When they do, reward them immediately which reinforces the action.

15) Roll over

Beyond cute, “Roll over” provides essential exercise and mental stimulation. Why is it a standout?

It’s about trust—showing their belly is a vulnerable position.

To train, start with your Labrador in a ‘down’ position. Use a treat to guide their head to the side and over, with the command. As they roll, offer the reward.

16) Find it

Tapping into their innate sniffing and hunting skills, “Find it” is both mentally stimulating and fun. Why employ it?

It enhances their problem-solving skills. Begin by hiding a treat in plain sight and using the command. As they improve, increase the hiding spot’s complexity.

17) Stand

This command helps in various situations, from grooming to medical exams. But why is it vital?

It aids in transitioning them from sit or down positions without prompting movement.

A trick for training: Hold a treat just above their head level and use the command. As they rise to reach it, give the reward. Over time, this motion will become natural upon hearing “Stand”.

18) Wait

“Wait” teaches patience and restraint. Why is this crucial? Consider scenarios where bolting through doors or lunging at food can be dangerous.

It’s about creating a pause until further action. When training, hold a treat in your hand, command “Wait,” and only reward after a deliberate pause.

The command instills the idea that patience brings rewards.

19) Release

This follows commands like “Wait” or “Stay”. Why? It’s the green light, letting the Labrador know they can resume normal behavior.

The clarity between holding a position and being freed is essential for their understanding. During training, after having your Labrador “Wait” or “Stay”, use “Release” to indicate they can move, then reward.

20) Good

Positive reinforcement is the backbone of dog training. Why “Good”? It’s a quick, universal affirmation of correct behavior.

It’s short, distinct and can be used in numerous scenarios—from obeying commands to behaving well around guests.

Always use a cheerful tone to signify approval and make them associate “Good” with positivity.

21) Place

This directs the Labrador to a specific location, often a bed or mat. Why the precision? In homes or crowded places, guiding them to a specific spot avoids chaos.

For example, when guests arrive, “Place” can ensure your Labrador isn’t overwhelming them. Guide them using treats to the designated spot and reward them for staying.

22) Back

This command helps in making the Labrador move backwards. Why?

Situations like tight spaces or needing them to back away from something (like an open door or unknown object) require it.

By holding a treat close to their nose and moving it towards their body while commanding “Back”, they’ll understand the motion expected. Rewarding them when they shuffle backwards reinforces this behavior.

23) Around

The command “Around” instructs Labradors to circle an object or person. Why is this useful?

It can be a foundational command for advanced training or simply a fun trick. If you’re out hiking and there’s an obstacle in the path, “Around” can guide them.

To train, use a pole or your leg, guide your Labrador around it using a treat, saying “Around”. This not only enhances their agility but also reinforces your leadership as you navigate environments.

24) Watch Me

This command is about focus. But why is maintaining eye contact significant? It fosters connection that ensures your Labrador prioritizes your instruction amidst distractions.

If you’re in a busy area, “Watch Me” can ensure they’re attentive to your next command. Start training in a quiet space: hold a treat near your eyes, command “Watch Me” and once they make eye contact, reward them.

Over time, this ensures that even in chaotic situations, they’ll prioritize your direction.

25) Settle

This is more than just calming down; it’s about transitioning from high energy to a relaxed state. Why?

Labradors, being exuberant, sometimes need cues to shift gears. After play, or when guests arrive, a well-trained “Settle” ensures they aren’t overly boisterous.

During training, after a play session, guide them to their resting spot, use a calm voice to command “Settle” and then reward their calm behavior.

It’s crucial in ensuring their energy is well-managed and appropriate for the setting.

Mastering these cues can unlock the deep-seated loyalty within Labradors. Find out all about it here: Why Are Labradors So Loyal? (Explained)

10 Step Action Plan To Train A Labrador To Pick Up On Words, Commands & Body Language Signals

Step 1: Introduction Phase

Before embarking on a training journey, setting the right environment is crucial. Begin in a distraction-free zone and ensur your Labrador can give you their undivided attention.

Why is this important? Just like humans, dogs find it hard to concentrate in chaotic surroundings. Picture trying to study in a noisy mall; difficult, right?

Similarly, by initiating training in a calm space, you’re offering your Labrador the best chance to understand and grasp your commands to ensure efficient learning right from the get-go.

Step 2: Association with Rewards

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in training. When a dog understands that obeying a command leads to a reward, they are more inclined to comply.

Start by showing the treat or toy before any command is given. This doesn’t just mean food; praise, petting or their favorite toy can be equally effective.

For example, if you’re working on the ‘sit’ command, show the reward first. When the Labrador sits, immediately reward. Over time, this builds a clear link: obeying commands = rewards.

Such associations propel the learning process — making it more intrinsic and motivated by positive outcomes.

Step 3: Begin with Basic Commands

Foundational commands like “Sit”, “Stay”, and “Come” are the building blocks for more complex instructions.

These commands are essential because they establish a communication channel between you and your Labrador. Start by voicing a command in a clear, firm tone.

For instance, stand in front of your Labrador and say “Sit”. Wait patiently. If they respond, immediately reward. If not, gently guide them into the position without forcing. The “why” here is about simplicity: by mastering basic commands, you’re laying a strong groundwork.

Think of it as learning the alphabet before forming words. It’s a step-by-step progression that ensures your Labrador comprehends and follows through with more intricate commands later on.

Step 4: Introduce Hand Signals

The beauty of Labradors is their innate ability to not just hear, but also to observe and react. After mastering verbal commands, it’s pivotal to introduce hand signals. Why?

Labradors, with their sharp observation skills can efficiently pick up non-verbal cues, often even faster than verbal ones. Start with a clear, distinguishable hand gesture for each command.

For instance, when teaching “Stay”, hold out your palm towards them, resembling a ‘stop’ sign. This visual cue reinforces the verbal command, offering dual stimuli.

With time, you might find that just the gesture alone suffices, showcasing the power of integrated learning.

Step 5: Consistent Repetition

Ever heard the adage, “Practice makes perfect”? It couldn’t be truer in dog training. Consistent repetition is the backbone of instilling obedience.

A Labrador’s ability to recall and act on a command strengthens with frequent practice. For example, after introducing the “Come” command, practice it multiple times a day and reward each successful attempt.

This isn’t mere monotony but building muscle memory. The more frequently a Labrador is exposed to a command, the quicker it becomes second nature.

The ‘why’ here is simple: repetition deepens recall which ensures the command is not just a one-off trick but a deeply ingrained behavior.

Step 6: Gradually Introduce Distractions

The real world is not a controlled, distraction-free bubble. Once your Labrador grasps commands in a calm environment, it’s vital to slowly introduce distractions. Why?

This tests and solidifies their training — making their obedience more resilient and versatile. Begin by introducing low-level distractions, like a toy or another person in the room. Command your Labrador to “Sit” amidst these distractions.

Over time, escalate the level of distractions. Maybe take them to a park, with more sights and sounds, and practice the “Heel” command.

This systematic exposure ensures that your Labrador remains attentive to your commands, irrespective of the environment — making their training truly holistic and effective.

Step 7: Focus on Body Language

Understanding body language is pivotal for Labradors, as it’s an integral part of their communication mechanism.

Start by ensuring your own posture and movements are clear and consistent. If you slump or appear uncertain, your Labrador may not respond correctly.

For instance, a straight posture and confident stride can signal authority can ensure better adherence to commands. On the flip side, understanding your Labrador’s body language is equally important.

A wagging tail or perked ears can be indicative of their alertness and readiness. The reason behind this dual focus?

It promotes a two-way communication channel that ensures both you and your Labrador are on the same page, optimizing training efficiency.

Step 8: Expansion of Vocabulary

As Labradors progress in their training, it’s essential to gradually expand their vocabulary. Begin with foundational commands and then introduce more complex words or phrases.

For example, after mastering “Sit”, introduce “Settle” to command calmness in more chaotic environments.

The reasoning? Labradors possess the capacity to understand a wide range of words and expanding their vocabulary not only sharpens their cognitive abilities but also enhances their utility and responsiveness in varied situations.

This step ensures they’re not just command-responsive but also adaptable to evolving scenarios.

Step 9: Social Training Environments

No Labrador training is complete without exposing them to social environments. After all, they’re sociable breeds.

Take them to environments where other dogs and people are present, like parks or dog-friendly cafes. This allows them to practice commands amidst distractions, but more importantly, it teaches them social etiquette.

For instance, a well-timed “Wait” can prevent them from lunging at another dog or person. Why is this crucial?

Social environments provide real-world training scenarios that ensures your Labrador doesn’t just obey commands at home, but everywhere.

It’s about equipping them with skills to navigate the world confidently and courteously.

Speaking of their sociability, explore more on How Do Labradors Play With Other Dogs? (All You Should Know)

Step 10: Maintenance and Reinforcement

Training a Labrador isn’t a one-off event; it’s an ongoing commitment. Maintenance and reinforcement ensure that your Labrador retains and adheres to the training over time.

Regularly rehearsing commands, even those they’ve mastered, reinforces their memory and compliance. For instance, even after your Labrador consistently responds to “Sit”, sporadically rewarding them for the behavior emphasizes its importance.

The rationale? Just as humans can forget or become lax in practices without repetition, so can dogs.

Consistent reinforcement ensures the training remains fresh and relevant that prevents regression and promotes a well-behaved, responsive Labrador.

Step 11: Continuous Assessment

Evaluation is pivotal in any training process. With Labradors, it’s crucial to consistently assess their response to commands, their adaptability in different environments and their overall behavior.

If you’ve introduced “Settle” and notice inconsistency in response, it may signal a need for focused retraining on that command. Why is this essential?

Continuous assessment identifies gaps in training ensures timely interventions and prevents the entrenchment of undesirable behaviors.

It’s not merely about pointing out what’s lacking but proactively ensuring that your Labrador’s training is comprehensive and adaptive to evolving situations and environments.

This approach guarantees a well-rounded, effectively trained Labrador.


VcaHospitals.com — Do Dogs Understand Our Conversations

Thenakedscientists.com — Are Dogs Easier Trained In Our Own Languages?

Scroll to Top