How Many Words Can Dogs Understand?
[And How To Teach More]

By kropek2021. • Updated July 1, 2021

Dogs are some of the most intelligent animals on our planet. Their ability to understand and follow the commands of humans proves this fact. But could there be a limitation to how much dogs can learn? Is there a way to teach them new words even after they cross a certain age? Such questions and more are always at the back of a pet parent’s mind. 

We commend the effort you are taking to learn more about dogs. For all the love and loyalty they give us, dogs sure do deserve a little bit of understanding from our end. Being well informed about their learning behavior and patterns is a great way to get started. So here’s a compilation of our experience and studies on dogs for your better understanding.

Dog Psychology

According to dog psychologists, these animals can learn around 250 words. However, this can only happen when their pet parents are patient, pleasant, and eager to

teach. Only then can the full potency be unlocked, and there are noticeable positive results in the dog’s learning curve. 
Despite being the smartest, dogs learn differently than humans. They mostly care about treats, food, attention, and appraisal. We, as pet parents, might have a hard time digesting this truth, but in all honesty, that’s just how these animals operate.

Dogs cannot process thoughts, yet they are sensitive to how their pet parent feel at any given moment. Our emotions and attitude play a key role in forming the behavior patterns in dogs.

How Do Dogs Learn?

One can argue that dogs only understand the meaning of ‘treat’ because they receive something in return after pleasing their owner.

Also, dogs can guide their pet parents to the exact location of food and treats because they’ve observed their actions before.

Do not mistake it for your dog having a thought process like, “My treats are in the third cabinet of the marble shelf, next to the kitchen counter.” 
Some of the most important contributors to our dog’s learning are eye movements, body language, hand gestures, and repetition.

An excellent example of this is how your dog is excited every time you pick up their gear to take them on a walk because they associate it with the activity of walking and not because they understand that you use the equipment to control and protect. 

Guidelines To Teach Your Dog

A list of tried and tested guidelines that you can follow to train your dog: 

  • Keep repeating your words until your dogs learn what you are trying to convey.
  • Beware that you are not using long and complex sentences as commands. 
  • Do not use words with too many syllables. 
  • Use just one word as a command, for example, “Down,” ” Stand,” Go,” “Eat,” ”Run.” 
  • Start associating words with things to form a pattern in your dog’s brain. 
  • Use a combination of hand gestures, eye movements, and tone of voice to speed up the learning process.
  • Be extremely patient and understand that some dogs learn slower than others, but they do eventually learn!
  • Consistently use the words you started with, do not swap them with other words because your dog did not respond initially. 
  • Make everyone in your household use the same words to avoid confusion. 
  • Don’t give up on your old companions; they are still capable of learning new words and will appreciate your attention and effort. 

Teaching New words

Learning the basic commands is relatively easy for most dogs. But they can also expand their vocabulary beyond that if you support and encourage them to learn more words.

The first step towards increasing the word count known by your dog is to acknowledge their achievements. Like how we cheer for our young ones when they perform well, dogs also get a surge of motivation when praised. 
Start with showing them essential things around the house that are of use to them. For example,  when you show your dog a bone, say the word “bone” so they know what it’s called.

Always begin with saying their name to get their attention and proceed with the thing and word you are teaching them. 

Importance of Voice and Body Language

Keep in mind that learning a word and understanding our language are two unrelated things.

Even though it seems like dogs understand our language, they are mostly reacting to our actions and our voice’s tone.

When it comes to understanding humans’ cues, dogs are even better than Apes, our nearest ancestors. 
Dog trainers are far more experienced in teaching than commoners since it’s our job. Even trainers claim that dogs are more responsive towards our hand signals than words.

It is much easier to teach desired behavior to a dog nonverbally through our body language. 

Learning In Different Dog Breeds

Here’s a sweet bonus from our end, based on Dr.Coren’s studies about dog breeds and their level of intelligence. 

  • The dimmest breed belongs to the Afghan Hound Family. (But we still love them!)
  • The not-so-bright or average ones are Bulldogs, chow chows, and borzois.
  • German Shepherds, Poodles, and Border Collies are considered the smartest dog breeds.

Conclusion

Well, aren’t dogs fantastic? You can’t help but fall in love with them a bit more every time you discover something new about them. We hope our input helps you in training or guiding your pet better. We believe that learning about dogs is a lifelong process, and one can never know enough. 

Even after years of expertise in this domain, we are left surprised by how majestic dogs are. You might feel the same at times, and you are not alone. From learning new words to following our commands, there’s so much that dogs can do, which makes them our ideal companions. If one is aware of the right way to harness dogs’ intelligence, then only can their true potential be unraveled.