So, you think your dog is really smart? Does it seem like you’re genuinely understood, not only emotionally, but in terms of the ideas you express and the words you say? You might be right! Here’s one way to to work towards a broader linguistic overlap with your pup.
During another one of my dog documentary rabbit holes, I found a feature on science show NOVA featuring Neil DeGrasse Tyson and a very cute and incredibly bright border collie named Chaser. She is not only able to remember the names of over 1,000 of her toys, but she uses the process of elimination when Neil asks her to find a toy that she had never heard of before, by bringing him the toy that she had never seen. She is also able to know what categories certain toys are in, and retrieve toys based on that understanding, too. That is incredible and maybe even a little intimidating.
Drawing inspiration from Chaser (and her owner, psychologist John W. Pilley), you can engage in play to slowly but surely boost your dog’s vocabulary. Through naming and repetition, Pilley taught Chaser names corresponding to different items, then tested her ability to find said item from a pile of toys or a hiding spot. They continue to work together for hours a day, but you can likely see results with consistent, if less intense sessions. The key is to continue repeating the name of the item while your dog searches for it, and of course giving praise after. Be sure to test recall regularly and keep training at regular intervals.
This isn’t for every dog. If you have a more difficult to train breed or a pup who would just rather sleep, you might not get much traction. This kind of project is best for a dog with a fair amount of energy and an interest in working. Border collies are perhaps most likely to be up for the job, but other breeds like German shepherds, Australian shepherds, and even potentially poodles could be interested in expanding their vocabularies. Of course, regardless of breed, if your dog is enthusiastic, they’re likely to benefit from this kind of training. Maybe you can teach them to bring you the remote!
You may not quite get your dog’s vocabulary to rival Chaser’s impressive recollection of over 1,000 objects, but that’s a blessing in disguise. No one wants to store over 1,000 dog toys. We’re all tripping over enough errant balls and frisbees as it is.