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How do dogs learn new words?

 by bora on 20 Jan 2021 |
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Dogs naturally communicate with body language, but are able to learn words and commands, too. Here’s how Fido masters the English language.

When you want to teach your dog a new trick, chances are you use a verbal command such as “sit” or “stay.” Though words come easily to us, our canine companions often understand visual cues and even the tone of our voices better, making a hybrid approach to learning most effective for Fido.

A study published in Psychology Today found that dogs use their keen sense of hearing to discern between words that stand for commands, objects and praise. By measuring dogs’ brain patterns, researchers found that unfamiliar words activated the auditory cortex more than commands a dog already knows, meaning our four-legged friends pay more attention to new words. This allows them to work harder to determine what these unfamiliar combinations of sounds mean, likely assisting as your pet works to understand a new word or phrase. Because he has already learned that certain sounds stand for certain things, he understands that new sounds can stand for new objects or commands. Known as sharpening, this phenomenon helps your pet associate the word with its meaning and, eventually, learn new phrases.

Dogs evolved with people and have a strong desire to please their human family members, so they can be highly motivated to learn the words we use most often. Each auditory connection takes practice, however. If you want to expand your pet’s vocabulary, start by ensuring all members of your household use the same word for the same command or object. For example, if you say “stay,” but your partner says “wait,” it will only slow the learning process as your pet masters this new command. Short words are easier to learn the long ones, so try to stick to one- or two-syllable commands, if possible. Because dogs naturally communicate with their body language, it can help to attach a visual command such as a hand motion or head nod with a new command. Be sure to maintain consistency in these motions, too. Dogs are attuned to our energy, so be aware of your body language and how it matches the word you are trying to teach your pet. Encourage him with plenty of praise when he correctly recognizes a new word or command. Food is a language we all understand, so use treats for positive reinforcement, too. With a little practice and consistent training, you can help your four-legged friend expand his vocabulary and set of tricks.

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