I don’t know about you, but my 11-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever and two-year-old Jackapoo both have a huge vocabulary. First of all, they know their own names and each other’s, but they also know at least 20 of their friends’ names, my three children’s names, my name and my husband’s, and what we call each other for their benefit i.e. Mummy and Daddy.
Their wide vocabulary also includes types of food – as well as the word food (and foodie) itself, here’s sweets/sweetie, fish/fishy, treat, biscuit, water, drink/drinky, bone/boney. Don’t ask me why, but I often add a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ to the end of a familiar word, a bit like I did to my children when they were babies and toddlers! My dogs know the names of different meals and times of day: from breakfast time to elevenses, tea time, dinner time, bed time and sleep.
They know the places they live and go to regularly such as outside, garden, walk/walkies, park, vet, TV, shopping, groomy (meaning pet grooming parlor), car and bed/basket. Then there are the accessories to those places like towel, collar, toy, lead, dog/doggy, ball, stick, play a game, and body parts like legs, paws and ears.
They also know the more regular commands (not that they always respond to them all!) get up, get down, no, dirty, leave, sit, lie down, heel/come here, good boy, bad boy, naughty boy, do a wee/poo, let’s go up/down, let’s go, all gone. And finally they know the words for those animals they either wish to eat or avoid: cat, bird, horse, sheep, cow, and chicken.
Janel Biglin, dog behavior consultant and dog trainer says:
“Dogs have the mental capacity of about a 3–5 year old child. If you are clear and teach them correctly, they can learn many words and phrases. My dog is about 3 1/2 and knows what: sit, down, drop, leave it, watch me, come here, get in here, up, off, out, touch, head down, wait, let’s go, heel, not yet, do you want to get the mail?, get your ball, cheese, bully stick, bone and okay go sniff mean.”
Dog lover, Maura Rudd, says:
“I’m answering for both my dogs. Buddy and Maggie were litter mates and share everything, including their vocabulary. I can tell by their reaction that they understand these words:
- Dinner – they run to their bowls
- Cookie – they run to the biscuit jar
- Potty – they run to the back door
- Brushing – they jump on the ottoman we brush them on
- Playtoy – they grab a toy from the basket
- Dad’s coming – they run to the front door-even if he is not home yet
- It’s too early – they stop begging and walk away since they are not getting dinner yet
- Walk – they run to the garage door where we keep their leashes
- Go for a ride – they lose their minds from joy, it’s their favorite thing
Now I will also admit that we use hundreds or maybe thousands more words when we speak to them, and I doubt they have any idea what we are saying. They just like our time and attention”.
A Genius Dog
In 2011 you might have read about Chaser the border collie who was born in 2004 and went a long way beyond knowing mundane commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘roll over’. Her late owner, psychologist John W Pilley, and his colleagues at Wofford University in South Carolina, taught the dog the names of more than 1,000 objects, thereby setting a new dog-vocabulary world record.
The dog learnt the names of 1,022 objects — mainly objects like balls, toy animals, and Frisbees — and could fetch the correct one when asked. She understood the idea of picking a toy she had never seen before when asked for an object she didn’t know. She also understood the difference between balls and Frisbees. The dog was tested over a period of three years, and in 838 tests she never scored below 90% percent correct, according to the Wofford researchers’ report.
Speak to Your Dog in its Own Language
Dogs need to know and understand lots of words, and you might sometimes think that your dog knows as much of your language as humans do. But our definition of understanding language is when a person responds correctly to the spoken word.
But just because the dog can’t reply verbally, it doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t know what you’re talking about. So how about trying to communicate with your dog in its own language? Not using any words, instead try making gestures, grunts, growls, squeaks, and all those other weird doggy noises – in other words you’d be imitating the way they talk to one another.
My dogs will come running at the sound of their food been poured into a dish, or a packet of biscuits or dog treats being torn open, the noise of the cooker door opening or the dishwasher being filled. Their will both come to me or whoever is making that attractive noise, instantly. But they won’t always come when I call their names. Especially if they’re busy playing, or sniffing a tree or flowers.