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Dogs can understand up to 215 words

A new study led by Dalhousie University in Canada has found that dogs are able to understand 89 words and phrases on average, with some canines being able to comprehend up to 215. These words include their names, as well as various commands such as “sit,” “come,” “wait,” or “lie down.” 

As early as 1928, scientists attempted to assess dogs’ ability to understand what humans tell them, when psychologists C.J. Warden and L.H. Warner documented the ability of Fellow, a male German Shepherd, to respond to his owner’s spoken commands. According to the psychologists, Fellow was able to respond appropriately to 68 words or phrases.

In the new study, researchers surveyed 165 dog owners of various breeds and ages, by using a questionnaire modeled after parent word checklists used to assess infants’ language. The participants had to identify words to which they believed their dogs were responding. According to the owners, dogs responded to between 15 and 215 words, with a mean of 89, most of the words being commands.

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

“Based on owner reports, dogs seem to vary greatly not only in the number but also in the kinds of words to which they purportedly respond. The current study is consistent with existing research suggesting that dogs may be particularly adept at responding to commands rather than object words.”

Moreover, the researchers found that certain dog breeds, such as herding dogs (Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, German Shepherd, Miniature American Shepherd, and Shetland Sheepdog), and toy-companion dogs (Bichon Frise, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, and multiple poodles) responded to more words than other breeds.

“There may be breed-related differences in the number of words to which dogs may learn to respond, although additional research is necessary to determine if such differences exist between breeds themselves or between owners of different breeds,” the authors wrote.

The study is published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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