What are some common words a dog can learn to understand?

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There is a growing body of research that suggests dogs can recognize well more than 100 words. In fact, one dog even holds a record for knowing over 1,000 words!

Sure, most dogs understand the basics –“fetch,” “sit” and “stay,” and other commands, but, with some patience and motivation, you’ll probably be able to considerably expand her vocabulary, says Stanley Coren, PhD, a psychologist who has performed a significant amount of research on the subject of dog intelligence. He suggests that average trained dogs know about 160 words and that some dogs even have a vocabulary as vast as a human toddler’s.

Their thought process is a lot different than ours, so they understand words through things like observation, repetition and association. For instance, they might know what a cup is, but only because they might have observed your routine of pulling out the object to hold a liquid. They won’t think, “Ah, yes! A container to hold a liquid!”

Dogs often hear the word “cookie” to refer to a dog biscuit, so when she hears it she’ll expect a meal or one of her treats—not a bag of Oreos! When you say “I love you” and she licks your face, she’s really associating it with your tone and other behaviors, such as the human giving the dog a kiss or stroking it under its chin.

Dogs also look at body language, hand gestures and even eye movement to link words together—and they’ll have an easier time learning if you talk to them in single words, says Dr. Pamela Reid, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist with the ASPCA in New York, NY. “They are more apt to pay attention to words that stand out from our normal speech — such as ‘sit,’ rather than ‘would you sit down please?'”

In some cases, dogs may not even listen to the entire word that you speak. “They’re probably listening to the first syllable, or first letter, of each word,” Reid adds.

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