How many words does your dog know?



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.

Ace and SammiIt’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

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  1. Omar Reyes (Dog Care Journey) on December 7, 2009

    Hi Lindsay,

    I came across your site over the weekend and have been enjoying browsing through your articles. I enjoy the information you present, so thanks for sharing.

    I think we all take our dogs for granted sometimes. For example, we tend to talk them in human terms – at least I do :-) – even when it comes to training and using commands. To tell you the truth, I never stopped to think that perhaps my dog is really tuning in to the words I say and not just my tone of voice, or how I say things. I never realized that dogs were in fact capable of understanding so many words, in context even.

    Just goes to show you that we never stop learning about our dogs, no matter how long we have shared our lives with them. Thanks for sharing.

    Omar Reyes

  2. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 7, 2009

    Thanks for reading my blog, Omar. In some ways, dogs are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. And then in other ways, they are a lot “dumber” than we think, too. We tend to believe they have human qualities and emotions when in fact they are just dogs most likely thinking about food or attention.

  3. Omar Reyes (Dog Care Journey) on December 7, 2009

    Well said Lindsay. Sometimes I just look at Misha and shake my head and wonder, “why did you just do that”. And at other times she amazes me with the things she picks up on.

    Omar

  4. Pingback: Oh My Dog! » Blog Archive » Dog blog round-up and a little CGC prep 7 Dec, 2009

    [...] this one is already on my blogroll, but I thought today’s post – How many words does your dog know? – was particularly interesting. After tonight’s CGC debacle, I think I’m going to [...]

  5. Jan on December 7, 2009

    Three of my dogs have normal vocabularies, but I am convinced that my alpha Poodle knows as many words as I do.

  6. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 7, 2009

    Haha!

  7. Shay on December 7, 2009

    Great post!

    You’ve identified one of the biggest mistakes I was making when we first got Lady: I talked to her like she was a small child. Way too many words, complete sentences, using synonyms. Narrating everything we were doing, speaking of the past, pondering the future, etc.

    Once I realized how much I was doing this, I SHUT UP. I communicate with her all the time via my energy, body languagem and touch. She really doesn’t need me yammering on all the time, and I felt like I was delaying her ability to expand her vocabulary in the way a dog can learn words. Now, I do my best to limit the number of syllables in each command and make sure the vowel sounds and dominant consonants are distinct from one another. Plus, I try to introduce a hand signal, since she learns that faster.

    How many words does she know? I have no clue! Within the first week from when we adopted her, at one point, I was still in narration mode, and I said to her, “We’ll head out for a walk, just let me go get my socks.” Now, dogs tend to only hear the very end of what you say. Lady disappeared into another room, while my husband and I discussed who was going for the walk. She came back with one of his socks in her mouth! Now, she has never before or after *ever* picked up any piece of his clothing from the floor, and we weren’t in the same room as the socks, so did she know the word socks? Maybe. I could test it, but I haven’t bothered to yet, because we’re working on so many other commands and phrases, I don’t really care if she knows the word socks. That’s the thing about adopting an adult dog. Who knows what vocabulary he or she has? I’m always curious what our next discovery will be!

  8. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 7, 2009

    Wow that’s a crazy story about the sock! I wonder if Lady did know the word sock. Who knows! Yeah, I think we need to find a balance. It’s good to talk to our dogs to help them learn words, but they don’t have a clue what we’re talking about when we speak to them as though they are humans.

  9. Echo on December 8, 2009

    Hi Lindsay, great post. While our puppies are still learning the basic words (sit, stay, lay, go pee …) we are working on one unique word: firewood. We live on a farm and are using ‘firewood’ for playing with sticks. Our hope is one day we can call ‘firewood’ and they will run out and bring back kindling.

  10. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 8, 2009

    Your firewood idea is great! I go camping with my dog sometimes, and I will tell him “stick” and he runs and gets a stick. It’s cute when we are trying to build a fire. Since he’s a retriever, he will also just carry a small piece of firewood if I hand him one. He doesn’t know the word firewood, though. Just stick.

  11. Biggie-Z on December 8, 2009

    So suppose one has a dog of a somewhat obstinate and independent breed…say, a “kuvasz”… who always takes his time deciding whether he wants to do what you’re saying. How do you figure out if he knows a word or not?

    :)

  12. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 8, 2009

    Ha, that is such a good point! I have a feeling he knows a lot more than we realize!

  13. Apryl DeLancey on December 8, 2009

    Ha! I’ll tell you the word that Gus does not acknowledge – “no”. He just stares at me with the sad, bloodhound look and pants. Silly.

  14. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 8, 2009

    Haha! Aww, Gus is so cute!

  15. Dawn Ross on December 8, 2009

    My dogs have picked up words on their own from just causual conversation. I can’t say words like, “food”, “hungry”, “dinner”, “eat”, “cookies”, “leash”, “shoes”, “walk”, “car”, or “go” without them perking up their ears. Since I talk to my dogs all they time, the pretty much ignore me until they hear a word they like – and I don’t even have to use my doggie voice or commanding voice when I say them.

  16. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 8, 2009

    Ha! Yeah, that is how Ace learned hungry, water, treat, etc. The word “ball” is what gets Ace the most excited. Sometimes my boyfriend and I will casually say the word ball in a conversation to see if Ace notices. Or we will whisper the word from another room.

  17. Shay on December 8, 2009

    What? No spelling? Hehehe.

    • Miss Cellany on December 11, 2012

      My dog can spell certain words, I thought I was being clever spelling the words he hated so that he wouldn’t understand what I was talking about… clearly I wasn’t being clever enough. When I need to tell someone I’m going to wash the dog I have to use code words since he knows B-A-T-H, W-A-S-H and S-H-O-W-E-R already. I even have to hide his towel because if he sees me carrying it he’ll hide somewhere. Whenever someone says my dog smells he slinks away stealthily to look for a hiding place, he seems to know that being “smelly” or “stinky” is a precursor to getting a “bath”.

  18. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 9, 2009

    Ha. I actually never spell things. We just randomly say the word ball as a game with him.

  19. tawnawhitford on December 10, 2009

    Hey there Lindsay- Emma is so smart! I regularly use phrases like, Time for breakfast, Time for dinner, Go outside, Go potty, come, heel, load up, good dog, bad dog, no, where’s brother? where’s squeekers, go to bed, go lie down, sit, lay down, and What do you want? (which elicits two quick barks.) I think there’s more but that’s all that comes to mind for now.

  20. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 11, 2009

    Aw, Emma is so cute. I love that she knows “Where’s Squeekers?” Haha. And “Where’s Brother?”

  21. Adam on March 19, 2010

    I know I’m late to the discussion, but just enjoyed reading this post since it’s something I think about a lot. I really think Muffin understands EVERYTHING I say, but especially “ball”.
    When talking to my girlfriend we have to spell it out, like “do you know where she left her B-A-L-L-? And even then she’ll perk up sometimes!

  22. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 19, 2010

    I know Ace understands ball more than anything. I haven’t tried spelling it out. Not sure if he’d pick up on that eventually or not!

  23. Claire on September 15, 2010

    Thanks for encouraging me to teach my Rottweiler even more words. He’s 2 and we were quite impressed when we listed 27 words and phrases he knows. But I’ll keep going. He’s now learning Frnech!

  24. Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 15, 2010

    That’s awesome! Keep working with him, I’m sure he loves learning as much as possible!

  25. Miss Cellany on December 11, 2012

    Dogs and wolves are in the top 10 most intelligent species on our planet. Some say they are 5th after Humans, Dolphins, great apes and monkeys – though of course the issue is hotly debated and no one can really say for sure.

    What is sure is that controlled experiments have shown they are capable of learning over 1000 words (look up Chaser the border collie), knowing the difference between verbs and nouns and even understanding human gestures such as pointing (which is something even chimpanzees couldn’t do in the same tests.) Dogs are now thought to be about as intelligent as 2 – 3 year old humans – which I suppose is why some can understand approximately the same level of speech as a 2 – 3 year old.

  26. Teresa on March 20, 2013

    I haven’t counted my Livvie’s words but will begin that project right now. What a great idea. I know she understands a lot of words and while there are key words, I’m amazed at the phrases she understands even if I change intonation. I toss her frisbee and we walk a bit and she leaves the frisbee. As we head home, I say, “Livvie you need to get your frisbee and let’s take it home”..I give no hand signals, she’s off lead so she isn’t looking at me….and there she goes to get her frisbee carries it back the through the gate. Just last night she was sleeping at the foot of the bed, I turned off the light and said “come sleep by me”, she gets up and snuggles right next to me. I take her to walk with my friend deb and she knows that name. I can change the wording, the intonation and she still knows who we are talking about because as we approach the corner she starts looking for my friend. Funny tho she totally ignores my friend as we approach…no signs of being glad to see her, but she’s got some rat terrier in her and she’s a one owner dog. We are in the living room and i say, “you need to go eat”… off she goes to the kitchen to check out her daily fare. she amazes me!!! There are more examples of her skills to comprehend more than one word. She’s a serious girl, and OCD when it comes to a frisbee which btw if its in the yard and she wants me to throw it, I say, “well, you need to go get it”, not using the word frisbee. Another humorous part of this is that I am a speech pathologist, for 38 years I’ve worked at teaching children to talk, and one key is to use single words, rather than long strings of words…but here I have this dog, that does comprehend elaborated sentences ! If she starts talking, I’m putting her on tv…ha ha!!!

  27. Sally on July 9, 2013

    Dogs are, at least two of the dogs I have had, much more able to comprehend words (not just words but ideas) than they are given credit for. My current dog knows over 1000 words, many of them fairly sophisticated words. It is mostly a matter of how they are taught I believe (not that this dog is not also pretty smart). I think the notion that language is only the province of the human species needs to be reworked, at least as far as dogs are concerned, because however differently their brains are structured, these two dogs have been quite capable of understanding spoken language–with training. They just have not had the capacity for passive assimilation the same way a young child would. My dog is 15 years old. He understands language at a 5-6 year-old child’s level. Here are some words he knows: Wheaen Terrier, dog, human, talk, word, name, understands, smart, opposite, pretty, ugly, happy, sad.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 9, 2013

      Interesting. How do you know he understand “pretty” or “ugly” as adjectives?

      • Sally on July 10, 2013

        First of all, my dog has been taught to signal yes or no by licking a left or right hand or licking his nose for “yes” or “no.” Or I can choose two other words and have him choose hands. The concept of opposites was taught early. Yes and no are opposites. Up and down are opposites. Less and more are opposites (I have seen at least one Youtube doggie demonstrating that he knows less and more). My dog is a handsome dog and probably learned early (we adopted him at 5) what “cute” and “pretty” meant, including perhaps the fact that he got it more often after a bath. I was able to teach him ugly as an opposite to pretty. He has good eyesight and he can see our large flat screen TV quite well. He will sometimes sit on my lap (he is a smaller Wheaten, probably a mix) and will answer upon questioning who he thinks (of interviewees) is handsome or pretty or not. Interestingly, the opinions he gives are usually close to what my husband or I would give. He also answers appropriately as to who is “young” and “old.” Generally speaking, he has opinions about aesthetics, as I believe it is likely other dogs do as well, they just do not have the ability to cast a vote!

  28. Sally on July 10, 2013

    At the risk of sounding too nutty, I would say probably over 2500. I am able to communicate with him as I would a mute 5-year-old who could not also write down his questions to ask me. That is obviously many words past a 2-3 year-old. I have discussed the issue of telepathy with my husband recently. I honestly don’t think that is what this is. I believe it is auditory interspecies communication. I sometimes ask him a question and then ask him if I have “taught him that word yet” and he will say no and I will have to teach him. He also is more critical of my appearance than I myself am, saying “Mommy” is more unattractive and looks older than I myself think. I think these things would not be the case unless this was something other than what I am suggesting for him to say. Incidentally, I might have said teached to begin with then taught him taught. But he is a smart dog andan actually “fast map” parts of speech pretty well. He also understands things like the difference between a word and a word preceded by a prefix. Such as unattractive and attractive.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 10, 2013

      Personally I think “ugly” and “pretty” are beyond a dog’s comprehension, but I am interested in all that you have taught your dog. And I am not necessarily right. This is just my (unasked for) opinion.

  29. Sally on July 10, 2013

    He has learned maybe a word or two a day at mostly a casual pace over the last 10 years. One of the key things I have done is to introduce key words to begin with and then build a framework of words to use as reference points. If, to start with, you have a dog that comprehends a word like “word”, you might have a candidate for this. Also, learning and then retaining words as categories (e.g. “box”) is much easier than learning a group of nouns without knowing what they mean. While I admire what Chaser the Border Collie has done, I have to say “ouch!”–how painful.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 10, 2013

      And I certainly know they are capable of a lot more than we think! Your dog is lucky to have someone so willing to teach him a large vocabulary.

  30. Sara Hickman on September 26, 2013

    I really enjoyed this, I often get myself in confersations with people because i say, you have to build a vocaulary with your dog, your own language with them.
    It made me smile reading this and i wanted to really see how many my dog knows by trying to list them as well.
    Ruby,Rupert, good morning, out,outside?, sit,stay, go find, lay, lay down, crawl, where is it?, listen, down, off, no, bad, wait, leave it, eat up, go pee, help, ow, get’em, get it, speak, come, come here, dap, bring it here, go get it, drop it, go play, get in, hold it, stay with me, hey, drink? What is it?get down. I think thats all. i didnt know it was actually so many! wow

  31. Sara Hickman on September 26, 2013

    One thing I remembered, I talk to my dogs way too much, or that is what many people tell me, usually saying. “They dog know or understand you.”
    Ever time my dogs are in trouble, I always sit them down for a leacture, and i will always end with “I love you, and Im not mad anymore.” The first time I really noticed it was one day, that my dog Ruby was sitting, with the look most dogs have when they have done somthing wrong. She knew, I never touch my dogs, never, but it always mad my mother laugh how the sulked when they were in trouble. Anyway, I looked at her an said. “Ruby, Im not mad anymore ok?” And there was an instant change, she was overly happy and lavished me in kisses before going about the normal things. Order restorted. My mother was just surpised to see it and laughed, reading this make me feel less like a crazy person. I know my baby is smart and I talk to her so much, it will be interesting to forward this to my friends an family as well!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 27, 2013

      Cute story! :) They definitely pick up on our moods and emotions, regardless of which words and phrases they actually understand. I think it’s interesting how much they can learn.

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