How to Train Your Dog to Understand Words

Dogs can identify the meanings of more than 200 words. Here are some tips on how to get your dog to understand some commands.

Sarah Hodgson, Writing for
2-minute read

Kids learn words one at a time. Parents hold up an object—“to-ma-to”— assign words to routines like "bedtime" and "let's go for a ride," and teach their children the meaning of various instructions like ‘come to dinner,’ ‘say please,’ and ‘time for bed.’ When repeated over and over, words start to sink in and routines become habits.

While dogs lack the ability to understand deep meaning, they can identify the meanings of more than 200 words. Dramatic new research shows that dogs not only understand the tone of voice used, they also recognize actual words. And dogs are one of the few animals that care what we're saying.

Hundreds of words, you might be thinking? I have trouble getting my dog to focus on his name!

Frustration between dogs and dog parents goes back decades—ever since we brought dogs inside and made efforts to coddle and contain them. If you find yourself fit to be tied, you're not alone. But I have a secret to share that will reshape the way you talk to your dog and how he learns from you. With a small shift in the way you're talking, you'll be able to change your dog's reaction to you, sometimes as quick as overnight. 

With a dog, it's not so much what you're saying as the direction you're standing in when you say it. Say what?

Think about it. Dogs never face each other, barking in code. The only time they face off is when they're angry or want to play. Watch the dogs at the park, on TV or even your dog at home and notice what happens when they bark. Dogs vocalize to alert others, using different types of barks to convey meaning.

You can decode other dog barks too! Pick up a copy of my latest book, Modern Dog Parenting.

With a child, you'd stand face to face and eye-to-eye, often kneeling down to get their full attention. But with dogs, your voice should lead them in the direction you'd like them to follow. 

So here's a quick tip! When teaching your dog new words, remember to say and show him what you'd like him to do or what you’re identifying, rather than just speaking and staring at your dog. Choose one word for each direction, routine or object.

Watch out for part 2 where I'll present examples that will help you teach your dog the ‘come’ and ‘stay’ commands. 

For more tips from Sarah Hodgson, check out Modern Dog Parenting, available for preorder on AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, and Booksamillion.



Having trouble communicating with your dog or puppy? Sarah Hodgson, aka the Happy Dog Mom, is here to help. She's written multiple best-selling books on dog training, and her next book, Modern Dog Parenting, will be out Fall 2016. Stay tuned, and join her in fight against dominance-based training by signing the pledge on thehappydogmom.com.