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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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Sara Hickman

Thursday 26th of September 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

Friday 27th of September 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.

Sara Hickman

Thursday 26th of September 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

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 27th of September 2013

That's great!

Sally

Wednesday 10th of July 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

Wednesday 10th of July 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.

Sally

Wednesday 10th of July 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

Wednesday 10th of July 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.

Sally

Tuesday 9th of July 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

Tuesday 9th of July 2013

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