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Media opportunity: Fido may know more than you think ‑‑ Dalhousie researchers discover dogs can respond to upwards of 89 words

Posted by Communications and Marketing on December 9, 2021 in News

Most dogs have a handle on basic commands like ‘sit’ or ‘stay,’ but new research out of Dalhousie University shows canines can respond to an astonishing 89 words and phrases on average, with some responding to many more.

Sophie Jacques, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, and colleague Catherine Reeve surveyed 165 dog owners around the world on what English words and phrases their pets responded to.

In a report in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, they describe how the various mixed and pure breeds responded to 89 terms on average, with commands comprising the greatest responses. Those included such basic orders as ‘come,’ ‘roll over’ and ‘down,’ with responses ranging from the animals becoming excited or whining to wagging their tail or carrying out the task.

The researchers found that certain breeds, such as herding dogs like Border Collies and German Shepherds, responded to more words and phrases than others. Toy-companion dogs, like Chihuahuas, also had a high response rate, unlike some hounds, terriers, setters and Golden Retrievers which scored lower. Dogs with jobs responded to about 120 words, whereas those without responded to about 80 or so on average.

Overall, the study shows that dogs responded to between 15 and 215 words and phrases.

Dr. Jacques is available to discuss the findings and how domestic dogs have learned to respond to human verbal and nonverbal cues at a level unmatched by other species, and how her team’s research tool could help predict the potential of individual dogs for various professions.


Media contact:
Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University
Cell: 1-902-220-0491


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