My sister recently brought home her first puppy, and while she's excited, she wants to make sure the whole family feels connected to the puppy. Her kids are going off to college soon and she wanted to know if they can still interact with their dog when they're away. So she wondered: Can dogs understand phone or video calls?
I'm no stranger to trying to have phone and FaceTime chats with my dog when I'm away. When I'm out of town for work, I often ask my husband to let my dog hear or see me on the phone. I'm not all that sure she quite understands, although sometimes she does perk up her ears and I swear she seems a little excited. POPSUGAR spoke to several vets to determine if we're wasting our time trying to FaceTime our pets.
Can Dogs Understand Phone or Video Calls?
There's no hard evidence for sure, but it usually depends on the dog, experts say. "Each dog is different, and while some dogs may react to hearing their owner's voice or seeing their face through a device, other dogs might not show any interest at all," Heidi Cooley, DVM, a veterinarian at Banfield Pet Hospital, told POPSUGAR. "If you're missing your dog while away from home, it can't hurt to have someone who is with them put your voice on speaker phone or hold up a video call to see if you get a reaction. If anything, it can help you feel closer to your dog until you're reunited."
Typically, dogs are more likely to understand phone calls and not so much video calls, added Zay Satchu, DVM, co-founder and Chief Veterinary Officer at Bond Vet. "Video calls are often lost in translation to the dog world due to their poor vision of small and up close objects. The brightness of the screen, combined with the small size, makes the image hard to focus on for them, and it is likely very distorted. However, they usually can pick up on the sound of their owner's voice."
How Can You Tell If Your Dog Understands a Phone or Video Call?
Signs that your dog might recognize your face or voice can include head tilting, ear perks, tail wagging, whining or barking. "Body language that shows alertness can indicate that they are hearing you through the phone," Dr. Satchu said. "You can try giving a well-known command, but this is often a poor indicator because they are smart enough to know you aren't present to reinforce the behavior — aka no treats for being a good boy."
Dr. Cooley adds that if your dog doesn't react at all to your voice or face on the phone, "Don't take it personal. They are probably one of the many dogs that don't respond to faces or voices on phones or tablets."
Are There Benefits to Talking to Your Dog When You're Away?
Besides increasing the bonding for the humans involved, pets can be comforted by the sound of their pet parent's voice. "I've seen some dogs react positively to familiar voices or sounds," says Paul M. Cunningham, DVM, senior clinician, emergency service, at BluePearl Pet Hospital in Michigan. "I've specifically seen this with boarding or hospitalized pets who get to hear their owner's voice on the phone — they perk up, wag their tail, and generally seem more attentive."
Could There Be Any Downsides to Calling or Video Chatting Your Dog?
Perhaps. Though many dogs may be comforted by the sound of their family's voice, others may feel more anxious afterward. "For the nervous dog with a history of separation anxiety, hearing a familiar voice could potentially worsen their anxiety," says Dr. Cunningham.
"I've witnessed this type of dog become frantic, looking for the owner of the disembodied voice," he told POPSUGAR. "What was meant to be a loving act has actually had negative effects. I have never witnessed a dog responding — for better or worse — to just to the picture or video of an owner."
Should Pet Parents Try Digitally Connecting With Their Dog?
Dr. Satchu recommends you think about how your dog normally feels when you're gone. "Is he the couch potato, snooze-all-day type — or is he the pace-around-until-you-return type? This may help give you an idea of whether or not hearing your voice while you are not around is a good thing for them."