Dogs pick up on more words than we give them credit for. They are very capable of learning 100 to 200 words and some learn more.
In the book “The Loved Dog” Tamar Geller encourages dog owners to teach their dogs as many words as possible by saying words like “walk,” “drink,” “cat” or “play” over and over.
I made a list of every word I know my mutt Ace recognizes. I counted about 70 words, and they are listed at the end of this post.
Of course, Ace recognizes some words better than others. He knows words like “Ace,” “ball” and “come” no matter what. To understand other words, he has to be in a certain area because it only makes sense to him in certain contexts such as when we practice agility or when we get in the car. And some words like “crawl” and “stand” only make sense to Ace if he sees a hand signal. I also assume there are some I've forgotten and at least a few others my dog recognizes without me even realizing it.
It's helpful to make a list of all the words your dog knows so you can try to increase the number of words on the list.
To help a dog learn more words, Tamar suggests creating a pattern in the dog's mind so he will learn to connect the pattern with the word. She says to constantly acknowledge “good” behavior by repeating the word for the action over and over when the dog is doing the action without being told.
For example, since I am trying to reinforce Ace's understanding of the word “stand,” I will repeat the word stand, stand, stand when he's standing still with all four paws on the ground. I'm not telling him to do anything. Instead, he gets attention and praise just for standing!
Teach dogs short words
When I made Ace's list of words, I realized many of the “words” Ace knows are actually phrases. For example, “Get your toy” or “Where's the ball?” or “Find Scout.” Al of these could be much simpler – toy, ball, Scout. When teaching Ace new words, I will make sure to be much more precise.
Phrases can be confusing to a dog if the same words are used in multiple phrases such as “load up,” “get up” “hurry up” “table, up” and “back up.” Or how about the classic mistake of using “down” to mean both lie down and don't jump. Why not use the word “off”? Talk about confusing!
Some words I am working on with Ace right now include “back up,” “leash,” “Josh” “upstairs” and “which one?”
Ace usually takes awhile to catch on to precise commands. Perhaps he has a teacher who tries to rush him. He has a tendency to get either too excited and lose the ability to think through problems, or he just stands there and doesn't do anything for fear of being wrong. He waits for me to show him or to physically make him do the right thing.
My goal is to slow down, and as Tamar suggests, to allow Ace to think through the concept on his own. I don't have to be so quick to correct, but instead I should encourage him to try. When I say a word and the wait a few seconds, I can see Ace thinking and I notice when it clicks. I love showering him with praise when he gets a command right for the first time.
I don't learn very well when someone gives me orders or walks me through the motions. I need to try new concepts for myself, screw up a few times and think through the patterns.
Maybe this mutt and I have more in common than I thought.
How many words does your dog recognize? What is the most unique word she knows?
Words Ace recognizes:
Ace, Ace of Spades, Bad, Ball, Back up, Bang, Beamer, Bucket, Catch, Climb it, Come, Crawl, Down, Drop, Heel, Here, High five, Hug, Hungry?, Hurry, Find it, Get it, Give me ten, Go long, Good, Good boy, Go, Go lie down, Go to your bed, I’ll be back, Jump, Kennel, Kisses, Leave it, Let’s go, Load up, No, Off, OK, Out, Outside?, Quiet, Ready?, Roll over, Say your prayers, Scout, Shake, Sing, Sit, Slide, Slow, Speak, Stand, Stay, Stick, Teeter, That’s right, Tire, Touch, Toy, Treat, Tunnel, Turn, Up, Wag your tail, Wait, Walk it, Watch, Water, Weave, Where is it?, Which one?, Yes, You coming?, You're staying