We recently wrote a blog exploring whether dog owners can speak dog. We looked at how to communicate better with our dogs on their terms. Can we tell whether our dogs can understand the words we are using when we talk to them though?
Did you know, In the 1970’s researchers trained chimpanzees to use and read sign language? Since then we have known that language isn’t unique to humans. Animals are able to learn to understand words or triggers in our language and associate them with actions.
If you were to tell our dogs they were going for a walk, they would know exactly what you had said. They would even nudge you in the direction of their leads. If you ask them to sit, they will and if you ask them to stay, they will.
Could you walk outside and speak to another animal like this and expect them to understand these commands?
It’s clear, dogs are among the most intelligent beings in the animal kingdom.
The training classes we take our dogs to all make sure they pick up the basic commands and pass on training tips. The classes also teach us dog owners how to communicate with our dogs by the tone of our voice.
But when you look at your dog do you ever wonder how much they actually understand of what you are saying?
Dogs don’t understand the human language, but they do understand words through association. Dogs will also understand signals and body language if they have been trained to associate that signal with an action.
So how many words can a dog learn to respond to?
The most recognised study in this field is by Stanley Coren, at the University of British Columbia. His study focussed on canine intelligence and the ability that dogs have in learning new words.
Dogs learn words through rapid mapping. This is when words are repeated frequently and are related to an action or an object. To avoid confusion, it’s also important to make sure the words we use sound different from one another to make sure our dogs have a clear understanding of what we are asking of them.
Coren determined in his studies that dogs are able to understand approximately 160 words. Apparently dogs find it easier to understand words that relate to objects, such as ‘lead’ and ‘ball’. They will find it much more difficult to understand less concrete words like ‘sweetie’.
Did you know that dogs find it easier to learn words that start with strong consonants? Words that begin with letter such as t, q, k, p are much easier to understand than words beginning with softer consonants such as s, l, r or f.
So are some dogs more intelligent than others? Out of all the breeds, is there a smartest dog breed? Apparently, according to the research carried out by Stanley Coren, some breeds have a greater ability to learn human words. Breeds such as Border Collie, Labrador, Poodle and German Shepherds. This will always depend on the training the dog receives though.
If you would like to read more about Stanley Coren’s research, click here to read more about The Intelligence of Dogs