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Dogs understand an average of 89 words, new Canadian study shows

Herding breeds and toy-companion dogs have the highest “vocabulary”.

Be careful what you say - your dog may understand more than you think.

A new study conducted at the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Halifax surveyed 165 dog owners and found that the average number of words a dog recognizes is just under 90.

The study was published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Researchers asked anonymous dog owners (local and international) to test their dogs with a series of English words. Results were recorded on a 5-point scale, according to the physical reactions of the dogs, which included tail wagging, eye contact, speaking, and completing the task asked by the owner.

The lowest score was 15, and one whip-smart pooch seemed to understand a whopping 215 English words.

The words most understood were common commands and reward-based phrases like sit, bed, leave it, all done, treat, good boy/girl, go for a walk, all done, and the dog’s name.

Other words that made up the list read like a conversation with a drunk friend at the end of the night: go pee, want a ride, out, home, leave it and no.

Although more research into specific breeds needs to be done, the study found herding dogs like collies and shepherds understood more words than other breeds. Toy-companion pups like Bichon Frises, poodles, and chihuahuas recognized a high number of verbal cues as well.

'Working’ dogs that participated in the study also scored high, due to their specific training.

On the low end of word recognition were breeds like setters, spaniels, hounds, and boxers, according to the study.

The good news is that, as far as animals go, dogs rule in terms of human understanding and remain darn smart companions.

“Due to their evolutionary history and close association with humans, domestic dogs have learned to respond to human verbal and nonverbal cues at a level unmatched by other species,” the researchers note.

“Their ability to respond to communicative cues is critical for the numerous professional and family roles they play in our lives.”

So while your pet might not absorb a Shakespeare sonnet or sit through your relationship problems, the Dalhousie researchers say that, with training, your dog can increase their English vocabulary and up your communication together.


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