Pet owners often chat with their furry roommates throughout the day, and it seems like pets understand what we’re saying and seem to have a vocabulary of their own.
They can interpret your emotions; dogs and cats respond to joy, sadness, and anxiety. Even so, do they know the meaning behind the words you say?
Thankfully, we live in a world that puts these questions to the test. Existing research from the American Psychological Association suggests that the average dog has the same intelligence as a human 2-year-old.
Dog vocabulary typically consists of 89 words and phrases, with some studied “super dogs” reportedly understanding more than 200 words.
Factors that affect canine intelligence
You may wonder if you own a “super dog.” You may ask yourself, “Is my dog a genius?”
You could try out one of the many dog IQ tests available online, but canine intelligence differs from human intellect.
There are three primary considerations that dog owners might examine regarding their pet’s intelligence: breed, adaptability, and bond.
Intelligent dogs also are excellent at reading facial expressions and body language. They often learn to anticipate their owner’s actions.
Different dog breeds have varying levels of intelligence. All dogs understand basic tones and words, but certain breeds are exceptionally adept at following and remembering instructions and solving problems.
The border collie is often considered the most intelligent dog breed, with poodles, German Shepherds, and Labrador retrievers also topping the list.
Because of their high intelligence, these dogs require plenty of exercise time and play.
Adaptable dogs are usually easier to train and perform well in high-stress situations.
For example, certain breeds are especially helpful in search and rescue missions, as service dogs or for use on the police force.
Adaptable breeds adjust to change easily and can learn new commands quickly if the situation demands it.
These dogs also tend to respond to more words.
Your bond with your dog can improve your pooch’s language comprehension.
Two researchers, Catherine Reeve and Sophie Jacques, concluded that domestic dogs have a larger capacity to understand their human partners because of the shared evolutionary history between the two species.
Their research found that dogs responded better to command words than simple object words, demonstrating that a dog’s learning ability is connected to the relationship with a human owner.
What kinds of words do dogs know?
The kinds of words that dogs know can vary significantly because of their meaning and the tone in which you deliver them.
Dogs respond best to command words, like stay, down, no, leave it, wait, and sit.
Dogs also understand their names and when they’ve done something wrong or right based on your tone.
Additional research demonstrates that the canine vocabulary extends to surprising words, including peanut butter, vacuum, and cat.
However, dogs fundamentally understand words differently than humans.
Dogs can’t understand the difference between a noun and a verb, and they won’t be able to grasp more abstract concepts.
Your dog will likely associate some action or response with each word.
For example, you can teach your dog the word bed. Dogs don’t know what a bed is, but they can learn it relates to a dog bed, crate, or other safe space in the house.
They probably understand they have a higher chance of pleasing you or earning a treat if they go to that predetermined spot.
How to teach your dog new words
Learning a new word requires some cognitive heavy lifting. Human children can learn new words quickly through a process called fast mapping.
While certain dog breeds have shown potential for quickly onboarding new vocabulary, most dogs require repetition, patience, and treats to associate words with objects or commands.
Toys are an excellent place to start. Introduce one toy at a time (maybe a favorite ball) and repeat its name repeatedly while playing with your dog.
Continue with this playful exercise over several days. Test your dog’s memory by placing the ball in another room and asking your dog to find it.
Reward your canine companion with a treat whenever it successfully finds the ball.
Build dog vocabulary
From there, slowly build your dog’s vocabulary by similarly introducing other toys.
Eventually, you will help train your dog’s mind to associate words with objects more quickly (much like a child does).
Be sure to revisit items if your dog starts to forget their differences.
After all, when you only have the brain space for 100 words in your vocabulary, it’s easy to forget a few.