One thing that anyone who has even a passing familiarity with dogs will know is that all dogs are very different, and even two puppies from the same litter may well grow up to display markedly different personalities and preferences.
The same is true when it comes to canine intelligence, and much like people, any two dogs might be vastly different in terms of their intelligence levels, particular aptitudes, and willingness to learn as well.
After all, being smart does not necessarily go hand in hand with being willing to pay attention and learn commands, and often, it is the most intelligent dogs that will find repetitive training boring and frustrating, and soon stop paying attention!
However, a common question from dog owners of all types is “how many commands can a dog learn?” And once more, this is something that is apt to be different for every dog. Coupled with this, how a trainer teaches and how effective they are with working with the individual dog in question has a huge impact on how successful they will be, and how many commands the dog can learn too.
All of this means that there is very much no fixed number or average in terms of how many commands dogs can learn, and this is apt to be very variable. However, different dog breeds can be broadly ranked in terms of their intelligence and working skills and this in turn dictates some broad norms in terms of what the average dog of the breed might be capable of.
This in turn can give dog owners some basic direction on how many commands can be taught to dogs of different types, and what to expect from training them.
With this in mind, this article will explain some of the variables that dictate how many commands a dog can learn, and what a dog is capable of learning. Read on to find out more.
To be able to learn and follow a command, a dog of course has to be able to recognise and learn the term used for it – and verbalisations are not the only method of giving commands either!
On average, a dog of middle-of-the-road intelligence can recognise and differentiate between around 130-165 individual words once they’re adults, used to being around humans and so, familiar with human speech and also, once they’ve been trained – which teaches them not only individual commands, but also the listening skills and differentiation needed to pick out meanings and correlate them with effects.
Really intelligent dog breeds like the Border collie and others in the top 20% of canine intelligence can understand an average of around 250 words or more, and the very smartest of dogs can understand a much greater number too. These top 20% intelligent dogs are considered to have an understanding level on a par with the average 2.5 year old child!
Dogs of around average intelligence and better can also usually count to four or five as well, and when it comes to learning words, dogs find it easier to understand and differentiate words with hard consonants at the beginning of them, and short words of one syllable.
Being able to understand 130-165 words doesn’t of course mean the ability to follow that same number of commands, and exactly how many commands a dog can learn and follow is apt to be highly variable.
It depends on intelligence, willingness to learn and the skills of the trainer, and a shortfall in any one of these areas can hamper a dog’s ability significantly.
The Coren scale of canine intelligence ranks dogs in terms of their working ability based on how many times they need to be introduced to a new command in order to recognise it, combined with how many times they need to be given a known command before they will follow it; and the smartest breeds can learn a new command in under five attempts, and will follow it first time over 95% of the time.
However, the Coren scale makes no mention of how many commands a dog can learn in total on a breed-by-breed basis – and this is because this is apt to be hugely variable, even within individual breeds, and depending on a number of factors.
For instance, if you take two Border collies from the same litter and train one from an early age for a complex working role whilst the other is destined to be a pet, the working dog will not only need to know many more commands than the pet, but also begin training earlier, build the thought processes and neural connections necessary to learn faster, and be more attuned to training, listening, and working than the other dog.
This means that their capacity to learn will be greater, and can be honed and trained to have a larger capacity to execute a higher number of commands – even though the dogs started life together and would theoretically be equally intelligent.
Taking a highly intelligent dog and an experienced trainer and ensuring that everything is designed to enable learning and push the dog to the full capacity of what they are capable of, a high-performing canine brainbox might be able to learn and execute close to fifty or a hundred commands, or alternatively, a smaller number of highly complex chain commands.
At the lower end of the canine intelligence spectrum, the average dog owner would struggle to train breeds like the English bulldog or the Afghan hound to learn and execute just five commands reliably – and so there really is no one size fits all answer to this, and also, a wide range of variance in intelligence and learning capacity even within each individual dog breed.