Dogs' favorite words and how to teach them
Have you ever wondered what your dog's favorite words are or if they even have favorite words? While the scientific community has mostly focused on dogs learning objects,1-4 we know that many dogs know words from lots of other categories, such as commands and games as well.5 We've compiled a list of the most popular words that dogs love to hear and the concepts that people love to teach their dogs. From "sit" and "stay" to "hello" and "goodbye," these words will keep your dog happy and engaged. So start learning these words (and how to teach your dog words) today.
How many words can a dog learn?
Let’s start with the big question: how many words can your dog learn? The scientific community has thoroughly examined some case studies like Chaser3, the border collie who learned over 1,000 words in a three year period! There are other examples of dogs who have known 200 or more words, as well.2,5 However, it seems like it’s more common for dogs to know and respond to an average of around 90 words.5 That’s still quite a few words!
According to a recent study,5 command words (like “sit” and “stay”) are the most common words that dogs know and respond to. Often, these words are taught when you train your dog in obedience, with tricks, or in sports. If you are interested in teaching your dog to respond to more command words, you can enroll in a local dog training class or in a beginners’ sports class (like agility or scentwork). You can also look online for fun trick classes and even consider working towards a title with your dog.
A dog’s favorite words
While we know dogs can learn words, do they actually have favorite words? OnBuy, an online marketplace, surveyed over 4,000 dog owners from the UK to determine what words their dogs reacted to the most. They found that the most exciting words were “walkies” (equivalent to “walk” or even “outside”), “dinner/food/eat”, “treat”, “get it”, and “fetch”.6 Naming a toy, using the dog’s name, or calling the dog a good boy or girl were also exciting for the dogs (and are some of the most commonly understood words, too5)! This suggests that a lot of dogs like to do things with you (their human), so make sure you give your dog extra attention when you get home from work or even just when you’re relaxing in the evenings.
What words do dogs "say"?
You’ve probably heard about dogs who know words and use recordable word buttons (like @whataboutbunny), which means humans are no longer the only ones doing the talking. The next question we’re trying to answer is: what words do dogs most like to say? How.TheyCanTalk is working on a partnership with FluentPet to study what word buttons people add to their soundboards as well as how long it takes dogs to start using the buttons, what buttons the dogs use most, and more.
Right now, some of the most common buttons that people have added to their dog’s soundboard are “Outside”, “Play”, “All Done”, “Water”, and “Walk” with “Food” and “Love You” being tied for the next most common words. If we think back to what words dogs are most excited by, or even what words are most commonly understood by dogs (command words, going for a walk, and generally interacting with humans5,6), this makes perfect sense.
Teaching dogs words with buttons
Based on what we've discussed here, think about what words your dog might like to use. From there, you can explore teaching them how to use buttons for the things that interest them most. The current suggestion is to start your dog off with 1-3 buttons that they might want to use and start modeling button behavior (by pressing the button before, during, and after the activity or object) as much as you can.
Every dog goes at their own pace, but everyone is capable of succeeding! Have patience, ensure you’re modeling as often as you can, and respond to every press (even if you’re sure it was an accident!) with the thing or activity as soon as you can, to encourage the association between the button word and the thing that goes along with it.
1 Dror, S., Sommese, A., Miklósi, Á., Temesi, A., & Fugazza, C. (2022). Multisensory mental representation of objects in typical and Gifted Word Learner dogs. Animal Cognition. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-022-01639-z
2 Kaminski, J., Call, J., & Fischer, J. (2004). Word Learning in a Domestic Dog: Evidence for “Fast Mapping.” SCIENCE, 304, 1682–1683.
3 Pilley, J. W., & Reid, A. K. (2011). Border collie comprehends object names as verbal referents. Behavioural Processes, 86(2), 184–195. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2010.11.007
4 Tempelmann, S., Kaminski, J., & Tomasello, M. (2014). Do Domestic Dogs Learn Words Based on Humans’ Referential Behaviour? PLoS ONE, 9(3), e91014. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0091014
5 Reeve, C. & Jacques, S. (2022). Responses to spoken words by domestic dogs: A new instrument for use with dog owners. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 246, 105513. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2021.1055136 Scientific Study Reveals The Words Dogs Love The Most. (n.d.). OnBuy. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://www.onbuy.com/gb/pet-supplies/blog/scientific-study-reveals-words-dogs-love-most~a362/
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