How Do Dogs Learn Words?

Understanding new words

If your dog’s vocabulary is limited to the basics — sit, stay, down, walk, etc…, and you would like to teach him more words, you’ll have to start speaking in a manner that he will understand, and that starts with consistency. For example, in order for you your dog to stay, and you’re saying “stay” but your child is telling the dog to “wait,” your dog will likely have a very hard time putting everything together.

To teach your dog new words, it’s important that everybody in the household or involved in the dog’s training is on the same page, and is utilizing the same language, which will prevent confusion and set your canine up to succeed.

Your dog will also pick up on short words over long ones, and pet behaviorist Pamela Reid told Animal Planet that dogs most likely only listen to the first syllable or letter you’re speaking anyway, so use hard sounds, like T, over soft sounds, like S. Additionally, because dogs rely on reading the energy of those around them when placed in pack or social settings, body language is a great teaching tool whenever using dogs.

Being sure your physical expression is matching the verbal cue you are giving your dog will be the best longterm option in helping him build new associations to words. Pet Helpful describes this as “overshadowing,” and stressed value of having awareness around it. They go on to list saying “stay” while lowering your head at the same time as a prime example of how a minor body movement can allow a dog to misread what you’re asking of him. Instead, do your best to remain still, calm, and confident when teaching your dog anything new, words included.

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