How Big is A Dog’s Vocabulary?

german shepherd dogs vocabulary

Do you find yourself spelling out certain words in front of your dog because they react to those words?

Dogs can anticipate and respond to what we are trying to say just a fraction of a second after we start uttering a word, such as walk, go, or treat. They can even understand the tone of our voice to some extent.

The average dog knows roughly 89 words and phrases.

According to researchers from Dalhousie University in Canada, highly intelligent dogs respond to over 200 words spoken by their owners.

A report published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science found around 90 percent of the dogs observed recognized ten common words and phrases. Among them was the dog’s name, sit, stay, come, ok, no, good girl/boy, down, wait, and leave it.

Some of the dogs in the study understood appetizing words such as treat, breakfast, and dinner and playful words like ball and squirrel.

How Was the Study Conducted?

A total of 165 dog owners of various breeds, ages, and training were asked to name the words their dogs responded to from a list.

Participants were given a list of 172 words to score their dog’s vocabulary. Owners were also given the option of adding additional words or phrases on their own.

Owners were instructed to say a word or phrase. If their dog responded by looking at their owner, running, whining, wagging their tail, or performing an action like sitting for the word sit, the word counts as part of that dog’s vocabulary.

According to the study, the dogs responded to an average of 89 words, half of which were commands.

However, a dog’s breed and training status did affect its vocabulary range.

Professionally trained service canines, such as those used by the military and police, could recognize 1.5 times more words than those who did not. However, the dog’s age nor the characteristics of its owner played an effect.

Super Smart Breeds

The average number of words a dog knows is 89, but the study discovered the range might be significantly higher or lower for particular breeds. Only 15 words elicited a response from the least responding canines, but the most responsive dogs had a vocabulary of 215 words.

Owners of herding dogs and toy companion dogs reported their dogs responded to more phrases than owners of terriers, sporting-gun dogs, companion dogs, and other purebred and mixed breed dogs.

According to the study, the German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Bichon Frise, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Chihuahua are among the most reactive dog breeds.

Popular breeds like the Beagle and Boxer, on the other hand, came in last place with the lowest vocabulary.

Researchers claim the average dog “knows” roughly 100 words. They caution that a dog reacting to a word does not guarantee they actually comprehend its meaning.

Dogs may have learned to correlate various human sounds with specific occurrences after those words during thousands of years of evolution and domestication.


This study is interesting but not really conclusive to determine how much human language certain breeds understand scientifically. More dogs need to be tested in a controlled setting to eliminate human signaling or contextual circumstances.

However, additional research with a larger sample size could help scientists and experts to assess dog responses to language.

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