Do you know people who speak very little and you know, from talking with them, that they don‘t read newspapers or magazines, and probably don’t even watch TV news? They may well be what is called functionally illiterate. Would it surprise you to know your dog could learn more words than many eighth graders?

In my personal experience I had a Great Dane service dog that reliably understood between 20 and 30 command words WITHOUT any particular emphasis on learning them – she essentially just picked them up the way a human child does.

Great dane helping person walk - smarter than most.

A Great Dane Service Dog

For example, she easily understood the difference between DOWN and OFF. The first meaning to lie down, the second meaning get off the furniture and onto the floor. MOVE she picked up on her own, understanding that it meant what you might think – i.e., move out of the way of my wheelchair. IN and OUT were easy, as was UP. Of course she also knew all the standard training words.

Was she exceptional? No, not in the least, just happy to serve.

Smiling Great Dane Dog

Great Dane Service Dog

Dog Smarter Than An Astrophysicist?

In fact, canine research has shown many dogs are capable of understanding enough words to pass as fluent in a lot of human languages.

One dog in South Carolina (Chaser, a Border Collie) has been shown to understand about 1,000 words. In fact, Chaser can pick out 1,022 DIFFERENT toys/objects by name and that’s just the NOUNS she understands.

Chaser has appeared on 60 Minutes (U.S. TV news magazine) and “talked” with Neil deGrasse Tyson (famous U.S. astrophysicist) . She was trained by a retired psychologist who was working on the question of just how much could she learn and many people feel the Border Collie is probably overall the smartest breed of dog.

That, of course, can lead to problems when people who think they want a Border Collie because they are “cute” or have the reputation of being smart end up with a neurotic apartment companion that has been driven crazy by having nothing to do.

Border Collies are one of those breeds that should never be any place but in the country and preferably with a job. Chaser had intense training that substituted for herding sheep but dogs left alone during the owner’s work day should be quiet breeds without a powerful drive to be doing some job.

But compare that vocabulary in a dog to that of a functionally illiterate human – an estimated 20 percent of Americans can’t understand a simple newspaper article or complete a job application. One thousand words is enough to get along every day in English. This dog is smarter than many people.

For example, “Green Eggs and Ham” (Dr. Seuss) uses only 55 different words and “The Cat in the Hat” had 255 different words.

KoKo the lowland gorilla has learned to recognize and even “speak” about 1,000 hand signs.

With dogs able to understand more than one thousand words is it appropriate to classify our best friend as a “dumb” animal?

Could you say to these girls that they aren’t smart?

St. Weiler Puppies. Is one dog smarter than the other?

Looking cute without even trying!

Chaser is certainly as “smart” as some of my neighbors, possibly smarter than others.