¿Se habla spaniel? Dogs and language: Part 1
By Jon Bastian
You may think that your dog understands the words you’re saying, but that’s not necessarily the case. In two easy exercises, we’re going to show you how to connect with your dog without a word.
“Sit” by any other name
If you’re bilingual, have you trained your dog in more than one language? If you only speak one language, have you ever tried nonsense words on your dog? Either way, the purpose of this exercise is to separate the language you speak from the commands you give your dog.
Whether you’re bilingual or monolingual, for this exercise you will need to come up with a list of words in a language you’ve never used with your dog before. Basically, you will substitute the commands your dog knows with words your dog has never heard.
Go on. Dig up that high school Spanish. Go to an online translator, pick a random language, and make a list. Make up meaningless words. The important point is this: pick one word in the new language and match it to a command your dog knows.
For the next week, only use the replacement words whenever you would use the familiar commands — but think the familiar commands while saying the new words. It also helps if the new words don’t sound like the old commands — choosing the German “sitz!” to replace the English “sit” wouldn’t really work, but using the Turkish word for sit, “otur,” would be ideal because they do not sound at all alike.
If you’ve done this exercise right, very soon after you change the words, you should find your dog responding to them without hesitation, as if you’re still speaking the language they know.
What’s going on here?
If you’ve kept your intent the same and used the new words in the same context as the old, then your dog isn’t listening to what you say at all; she’s paying attention to your energy and body language — and your expectations.
As pack animals used to hunting together, dogs are all about expectations. They work as a unit with their pack, instinctively, and follow the pack leader by sensing and mimicking its body language. If you still don’t believe this, then try the exercise in Part Two.
Let us know about your results in the comments below