How Many Words Does the Average Dog Understand?

Communication is critical for pet ownership, but how much does your dog actually understand? A recent study from Dalhousie University in Canada found that the average dog knows around 89 words and phrases, with results varying from breed to breed. 

How do they Know?

Researchers defined “knowing” as a response to a particular word or phrase. For example, a dog might know the word treat because they wagged their tail. Another dog might know the word sit because they sat down. Common words in the canine vocabulary are typically used as commands, like sit, stay, or down, but others indicate positive occurrences, like treat and ball. 

But do they Understand?

While the idea of a canine vocabulary is entertaining, it’s a little tricky to say that dogs understand these words. Just because the dog responds doesn’t mean they know the human definition. Dogs are habitual and pay attention to the results of specific phrases. It’s more of an association than a definition, which is why you can train a dog to sit or roll over by rewarding them with treats. Nevertheless, this study is a massive step in the right direction for human-canine communication. Developing a deeper understanding of how dogs understand words can help us achieve a closer connection to them in the future.

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