How Many Words Can a Dog Learn?

by Sundays

Have you ever wondered how many words a dog can learn and understand? 

We’d all love to think that we share such a close bond with our pups that we totally get one another. And it’s true, of course. You know every look, from the sad eyes to the super-excited-tongue-out face, and your dog completely understands all your moods. 

Even though they always seem to know what you’re feeling and even saying, have you ever wondered how many words a dog can learn and understand? 

Can Dogs Understand English and Other Languages?

The answer to this is kind of. Most dogs are capable of understanding a number of English words or certain words in the languages they hear most often. Their level of understanding, on average, is similar to a 1-year-old’s level. 

Young infants don’t grasp the phonetic differences between words yet, and this is kind of how dogs hear spoken language, too. In a 2020 study, researchers found that dogs can understand words the same way that infants under 14 months old do. 

In the study, the dogs listened to three types of words: Simple instruction words they already knew, nonsense words that sounded like the simple instruction words, and nonsense words that didn’t sound like them. The researchers monitored the dogs’ brain activity through electroencephalography (EEG). 

They found that the dogs processed the known words and the nonsense words that sounded like those words in the same way. They couldn’t really tell them apart. But they could quickly tell the difference between a nonsense word that didn’t sound like any words they knew.

They can’t pick out phonetic details, so they mix up words that sound similar. Imagine if you were learning a new language, and you could pick out certain words when you heard them here and there, but a lot of words also sounded alike. That’s how a dog hears words.

How Many Words Can a Dog Understand?

Dogs can learn a limited number of words–it all depends on the particular dog just how many they know or are able to learn. A 2022 study found that on average, dogs could understand 89 words. On the lower end of the scale, one pet parent reported that their dog only responded to 15 words, and on the other end, one smart pup was said to know 215

And yes, there are doggy superstars out there that can learn even more than 200! One Border Collie named Chaser really showed up all his fellow canines by learning the names of 1,022 objects over the course of 3 years. Chaser even understands how nouns and verbs work. Just to give you and idea of how advanced this dog is, the previous record holder was another Border Collie named Rico who knew 200 words.

Even if your dog doesn’t always respond to it, they most likely can at least recognize their name. And then there are words that dogs always seem to react to–the ones that mean something really great is going to happen, like “walk,” “food,” “treat,” or “good dog,” or something really bad, like “vet” or “bath.” 

Which Dog Breeds Can Learn the Most Words?

Breed seems to be an important factor in a dog’s ability to pick up language. The breeds that responded to the most words are:

- Australian Shepherd

- Border Collie

- German Shepherd

- Bichon Frise

- Cavalier King 

 - Charles Spaniel

- Chihuahua

And if we look at lists of the most intelligent dogs, who would also be capable of understanding a lot of words, you can add:

- Poodle

- Golden Retriever

- Doberman

- Shetland Sheepdog

- Labrador Retriever

- Papillon

- Rottweiler

- Austrailan Cattle Dog

But that shouldn’t be the only thing that’s important. Researchers also found that dogs that get the most excited when they hear “happy” words are:

- French Bulldogs

- Beagles

- Rottweilers

- Labrador Retrievers

- Dachshunds

What Are a Dog’s Favorite Words?

You can probably guess which words are your dog’s most favorite by their reaction to hearing them. If your dog starts wagging their tail uncontrollably when you say a certain word, you can be sure that’s one of their favorites. 

But if you need some scientific evidence to back up your own observations, we can take a look at a study that was done in the UK. It started with a survey of almost 4,400 pet parents, asking which words their dogs responded to the most. Then researchers monitored the heart rates of 60 dogs when they said the most highly reported words to see which ones really got their hearts going. Here are the top words:

- Walkies (for American dogs, it would be “walk” or “let’s go outside”)

- Dinner / food / eat

- Treat

- Get it

- Fetch

- Toy / get your toy

- Good boy / girl

- What’s that

- (Their name)

- Find it

Going back to the 2022 study, these are the words that people’s dogs responded to the most:

- (Their name)

- “Command” words like “sit,” “come,” “down,” “stay,”and “leave it'”

- Food words like “treat,” “breakfast,” and “dinner”

- Words that interest dogs, like “garbage” or “poo”

- Things to chase, such as a “ball” or “squirrel”

Basically, if it’s a word your dog associates with something good or fun, then it’s probably their favorite word. Juheck for the tail wag and the perked-up ears.

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