Does your dog understand you when you say, “Bye-bye, back soon”? Or when you say, “I love you, beautiful boy”? How many different words do you think your dog can learn? 10? 20? 50?
Experts reckon that an average dog’s “vocabulary” stretches as far as 165 words, and the very intelligent breeds can learn up to 250 words. That’s a lot of words!
When we’re giving instructions we don't generally use that many words communicating directly with our dogs: sit, stay, stop, walk, come, go, inside, outside, food, basket, I, love, you, and so on. But that’s only about 14 words.
There are also words your dog learns indirectly, like names of family and friends, for instance. We use up to 7,000 words in our daily interactions and only about 800 of those are unique words, which means that your pooch might hear you using a word at least 20 times in a day and that word will eventually imprint itself on his brain.
Dogs receive signals on many levels, not merely from the words they hear. A dog can hear almost double the frequencies than humans and detect subtle differences in your tone of voice so they easily pick up on your emotional signals.
When you say, “Back soon” in a gentle, reassuring way, and then you do indeed return, your dog associates these words with your leaving and returning. The way you say it is important . If you call out a cheery “Back soon,” to your daughter as you get into your car to leave, the dog might recognise the words – but you’re not saying them to him using the specific reassuring tone of voice that he has learned to associate with the words.
Your dog might not understand your words in the way we humans do, but he’ll certainly listen, and pay attention. That brain is processing information all the time!
There are essentially three different kinds of canine intelligence: their instincts; training, working and obedience; and the adaptive way that the dog will learn - something like problem-solving - from its environment.
A dog can use their powers of observation to learn where things are kept, and even how to operate mechanisms like door handles and simple machinery, but behaviourist Dr Stanley Coren also believes that dogs can actually reach a point of understanding the meanings of words and concepts through watching and listening to combinations of words and actions.
His research has established that dogs can actually count - as far as four or five - and they even have a basic understanding of arithmetic. He says dogs can even recognise errors in simple sums, such as 1+1=3. Quite remarkable, really!
The average dog is reckoned to have the mental age equivalent of a 2½-year-old child (the brightest breeds equivalent to that of a 3-year-old) and it’s been shown that a dog will pick up on signs and gestures even better than some of the great apes. When you say, in a stern voice, “Get inside!” and point with your hand and arm in the desired direction, your dog responds as much to your gesture as to the words and tone. Many trainers say it's far easier to teach a dog using hand signals than it is using words and non-verbal language is what your dog understands best.
When you share long lingering looks of love, you and your dog are both releasing oxytocin, the “love chemical” - the most powerful love language of all. Nothing quite like it, is there?
For more fabulous tips to enjoy your dog take a look at