Why a dog’s vocabulary matters

In the personality questionnaire at the beginning of the Dognition Experience, we ask you how many words your dog knows. Human words, that is.

It might take you a moment to count them on your fingers (and toes, if your dog knows a lot of words), but you could probably come up with an answer. Your dog might run to the door when you mention a “car ride”,  or maybe your dog knows the differences among the sodas in your fridge, like this Labrador Retriever does!

Some dogs even seem to know words in multiple languages!

My fuzzy pal Teddy knows at least 10 words. If he hears a word he knows, such as “ball,” “walk,” or “eat,” he gets excited and runs to the door or to his bowl. And if he comes across a word he doesn’t know, he does this:

Teddy Head Tilt

Why are we so curious about how many words your dog knows? Dogs are able to learn words because of their remarkable memory skills! In addition to the memory games you play in the Dognition Experience, we also factor this question into the memory section of your Dognition Profile Report.

Some dogs have made international headlines for their incredible memory skills, with the ability to recall hundreds of words. Chaser, a Border Collie from South Carolina, learned the names of 1,022 different objects – including 800 cloth animals, 116 balls and 26 Frisbees.

What’s even more remarkable is how dogs learn new words. In The Genius of Dogs, Dr. Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods recall a discovery made by one of Brian’s colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin.

Dr. Juliane Kaminiski spent time working with another Border Collie named Rico, who knew the names of over 200 different children’s toys. The breakthrough happened when Dr. Kaminski added a new toy to the mix. She placed this new toy, along with Rico’s own toys, in another room, and told Rico to fetch “Siegfried.” Like a human child, Rico was able to compare the new word with the words he already knew, and correctly inferred that this new word referred to the new toy.

In this clip, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson puts Chaser’s inference to the test with a game similar to the one Dr. Kaminski played with Rico:

When thinking about the handful of words that Teddy knows, one of the favorite ones that came to mind was “snuggle.” When I’m sitting on the couch, and tell Teddy to “come snuggle,” he jumps up next to me and curls into a warm, fuzzy ball.

What are some of your dog’s favorite words? What are some of your favorite words that your dog knows?