How many words do dogs understand?

How many words do dogs understand?: Author's Note

Many dog-owners share a special connection with their dog -- so much so, that they often chat or even vent to their beloved pet. And for some, this is more cathartic just talking to a oneself or even writing in a journal. Many believe that their dog understands much of what they are saying. After writing "How do dogs perceive time?," and finding that a dog's memory works in a similar way as a toddler's, the idea that a dog also understands about as many words as a 3-year-old was fascinating. But beyond the size of a dog's vocabulary, I was also driven to find out to what extent dogs truly understand language, and what it means to understand language. And, although experts claim that dogs don't understand abstract concepts, dogs' ability to understand human body language and other cues is remarkable.


  • Coren, Stanley. "The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions." Simon and Schuster. 2005. (April 4, 2008)
  • Coren, Stanley. "How do I increase my dog's understanding of words?" Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (April 4, 2008)
  • Kaminski, Juliane, Josep Call, Julia Fischer. "Word Learning in a Domestic Dog: Evidence for 'Fast Mapping.'" Science. June 11, 2004, Vol. 304 Issue 5677, p1682-1683, 2p. (April 4, 2008)
  • Bloom, Paul. "Can a Dog Learn a Word?" Science. June 11, 2004, Vol. 304 Issue 5677, p1605-1606, 2p. (April 4, 2008)
  • "Collie dog's word power impresses." BBC News. June 11, 2004. (April 4, 2008)
  • Coleman, Andrew M. "Clever Hans." Dictionary of Psychology. 2001. (April 4, 2008)
  • Hare, Brian, et al. "The Domestication of Social Cognition in Dogs." Science. Nov. 22, 2002. Vol. 298 Issue 5598, p1634, 3p, 5 graphs.