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:
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?
Bruno’s favorite word is “swimming” he beehives to the bathroom and looks to see if my bathing suit is hanging and then he whines to go out.
My English Springer Spaniel learns the names of his many toys just as you say – any new toy, I just ask him to fetch whatever it is, and he goes straight to the new one. He’s been able to fetch his toys by name from a young pup,and his vocabulary grows with the toy-box. If one of his favourites falls apart and we buy another just like it, he still recognises the word belongs to the replacement toy, which will look much the same but smell different, which I feel is quite a clever thing as showing a degree of abstract thought. His favourite word is probably “hedgehog”, which refers to about the 7th generation of his absolute favourite toy.
Betty, our Jack Russell/Dachshund mix, knows lots of words. Our favorite is “pretty.” That means she wants to get brushed.
Samba, our 7 year old Shih Tzu, knows: “brush you”, “wash your feet”, “treats”, “carry you”, “go in the car”, “uppity up”, “jump”, “go out”, “pee and pooh”, “quick pee”, “pop corn”, “new toy” (which we cannot say, unless we plan to give her one”, “chesch” (hello in Polish), “nice” (which means stop barking), “in your eyes” (for eye meds). She also loves the Empire Carpet theme song, and she knows when I tell her the story of how she was born, “an angel flew by, dropped a feather that floated to the earth, and became Samba. She loves that one!
Great article! As professional dog trainers ourselves, we understand first hand how smart dogs really are.
i listed about 40 that came to mind right off the bat, and some of them were phrases. that’s not counting that the toys each have a name (purple ball, pink pig, etc.) and that mostly we communicate through eye contact, gesture and body language, in addition to cues such as putting on shoes, the ring tone my cell phone makes when i’m forwarding my home phone to it before going out. it always surprises me when we walk with friends and their dogs and they are constantly giving orders. we just don’t communicate that way most of the time – i can point and they know come this way, stay on the trail, get to this side of the fence, and such. i’m a terrible dog trainer so all this is just through them being smarter than me. some of our words are wait (THE most useful of all), jum, treat, swim, ball, sit, stay down, leave it (another life saver), here, come, hurry up (that means pee now, please), crate, dinner, beach, Beau (best doggie friend’s name), up, over, roll over, get back, go get that little dog and take him back to his owner (no, really), go lie down, find it, ehhh (this is an awful noise that just means no) psst (our indoor way of saying here) and I love you…..
my dog knows quite a few words and phrases, but my favorite is one we never taught him: go. he just seems to have figured out that whenever that word is used, it is generally a good thing!