Your Dog’s Vocabulary

There are two types of people in this world. One who believe that their dog understands everything and is almost a human and the other, who treat their dog like a circus animal and make him shake hands with every visitor in the house. Long back I went to a friend’s house. He had Labrador, and after I had settled he called his dog, ‘Bozo come.’ And there came Bozo a burly Labrador. He promptly stayed on command and then suddenly my friend barked, ‘punishment’, and immediately poor Bozo went to the corner, stood on his hind legs and put the forelegs on the wall for support. Poor thing remained like that nearly for 20 minutes, until I insisted that the dog be recalled from the real punishment. The moment dog was released, he came rushing to me and licked my cheek with vigor. Well I do love dogs, but never liked the idea of someone else’s dog lick my face!
No doubt my friend had worked hard to train the dog, but he was not a good teacher. Dogs understand a lot more, if you talk to them same sentences again and again. Thus instead of turning them in to army soldiers, you can let them be ordinary, disciplined citizens. Dogs learn a lot, if you follow a routine. For example, a three month old Labrador pup will easy understand the word toilet or you can even substitute the word, with any other word. For example, I had taught a pup the word Number One. The moment I asked her in a sweet tone, ‘you want to go out for number one?’ She would instantly wag her tail and rush towards the door. But believe me if I asked, ‘you want to be taken out for number three?’ in the same tone as before, she would give me a confused look.
Yet another Dachshund bitch I had was a sworn enemy of lizards and rats. The moment I said, ‘I can see a lizard, or there is a lizard up the wall,’ she would look up the wall. If I said, ‘Lizard is near the kitchen,’ she would rush towards the kitchen. Similarly, she would start looking for a rat, the moment I said, ‘I can smell a rat in the toilet.’ She would start scratching the door of the toilet.
At that stage of my experience and even till about two years ago, I had a firm belief that all the vocabulary of dogs is nothing but their uncanny analytical power to identify and retain a particular tone! But I pondered a lot on that and reached a conclusion that apart from their power to identify and store a particular tone in their memory, they also store a few sentences as well. In addition, some breeds like Labrador, Alsatian and Doberman (and may be Rottweiler too-I have no experience with them) can retain more than many other breeds like a Lhasa Apso or a Bull Terrier. I feel that the breeds with better retaining power have larger ‘discs’ in today’s computer lingua, or their RAM is more powerful!  
If the readers’ recall in my initial blogs I had advised not to use long sentences, as dogs cannot remember them. Yes, that is true. But then how come they retain the sentences? A recent article (blog) published by Julie Hecht in Scientific American, she says that dogs can retain names of over 1000 objects. She taught dogs to ‘take ball to Frisbee’ and ‘Frisbee to ball’ and dogs learnt without much problem. But this happens overnight, she says. It takes lots of effort on part of the trainer. There are moments when out of despair you intend to give up, but suddenly, dog begins to respond and learns faster.
Dog learns by repetition. As I mentioned in the beginning, my dachshund bitch could differentiate between a lizard and a rat, between a crow and a monkey. It was not that she was a biology student or had extra intelligence. It was simply repetition of the same word or a group of words in the same tone. And after a few days she would suddenly run after a lizard or a rat or run up the terrace to look for a monkey. Yet those days I used to believe that she retains those animal or bird names or even names of my children, because I use a particular tone. But no, she was able to decipher the names even when used in some other context. For example, once I told a visitor, ‘Our Minty (Dachshund) has cleared the house of lizards.’ Minty was sitting in her cage, which was quite some distance away. She came running to the sitting room and began sniffing and searching a lizard.
After reading Julie’s blog in Scientific American, I am feeling elated, because it explains what remained a mystery to me for years. I strongly advise my readers to try and train their already trained dogs to respond to names dropped in sentences. Mind you for that a dog has to be completely devoted towards you and confidant of you. In case you have taught your dog commands using cruel methods, please never try what I have explained here.

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More By  :  V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

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Comments on this Blog

Comment Yes, you are right. Naunny understands 50 words and she could have learned 500, had you tried to teach her in that direction. Dogs are like children, some are fast learners and some are slow and even shirkers. Thanks for your comments Subodh.

15-Sep-2013 12:03 PM

Comment Excellent article Sir !!! An average dog can understand about 200 words in any language.. My lab Naunny understands almost 50 words and brief commands.

subodh kumar sharma
13-Sep-2013 20:09 PM

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