Do You Talk to Your Pet? New Research Shows the Average Dog Understands 89 Words and Phrases

Some breeds know more than 200!

If you're like most pet owners, you likely have full conversations with your furry friend throughout the day, but have you ever wished that your pet could talk back? Your daydream might not be as far fetched as you think. A new study published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science conducted by researchers at Dalhousie University in Canada revealed that the average dog understands 89 words and phrases. "We aimed to develop a comprehensive owner-reported inventory of words to which owners believe their dogs respond differentially and consistently," researchers Catherine Reeve and Sophie Jacques write in the journal.

The team surveyed 165 dog owners who are the pet parents of several different breeds. The owners reported on the different words and phrases their pets seem to understand, as well the breed, age, sex, and training background of their dogs. The participants reported that, on average, their dogs responded to 89 words—78 from the list provided by researchers and 11 added by the pet owners themselves. However, the least responsive dogs only reacted to 15 words, while the most responsive pets knew up to 215.

woman working out talking to dog
Kevin Kozicki / Getty Images

When it comes to counting which words the dogs actually know, the study authors only counted words or phrases that made each dog look up, whine, run, wag their tail, or perform a task related to that word, like sitting or laying down. Most of the known phrases were commands, such as "sit," "come," "down," "stay," "wait," "no," and "leave it." Some of the dogs also knew words related to food and toys, including "treat," "breakfast," "dinner," and "ball."

According to the research team, the most responsive dog breeds include the Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, German Shepherd, Bichon Frise, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Chihuahua. Breeds with the smallest vocabulary are Beagles and Boxers. However, the researchers note that a dog responding to a word doesn't mean they truly understand its meaning. It's possible that the furry animals have learned to associate certain human sounds with the events that follow—such as getting a treat after being told to "sit." "With additional research, our tool could become an efficient, effective, and economical research instrument for mapping out some of their competences and perhaps help predict early the potential of individual dogs for various professions," the team writes.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles