I posted on Wednesday that, despite my horrible French language skills, I managed to survive two trips to France without my mother (the interpreter) thanks to knowing a few key phrases and the help of sympathetic locals, my cousins, and travel buddies. This got me thinking about dogs and the tough time they must have attempting to navigate through a human world without a solid grip on our language. They have to rely on sympathetic locals (us) to teach them a few key phrases to help them know what to do in the foreign land they are forced to LIVE in (not just visit).
For example, we had several dogs when I was a child, but I can only remember taking one of them to any kind of training class. We didn’t even really practice any kind of training at home that I can remember. But I do remember my dad yelling “OUT!” and “NO!” and “STOP BARKING!” constantly. He just kind of expected the dogs to understand what those words meant. And eventually, the dogs did learn what “out” meant – but it was probably the pointing that helped them make the connection. “STOP BARKING!” never really clicked – it just added to the cacophony of noise that was already occurring.
When I brought Rufus (my very first pet as an “adult”), I didn’t enroll him in a puppy class. I mean, he was 1.5 lbs! What kind of bad behavior could he possibly display? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha….sorry, give me a second while I recover from the stupidity of THAT thought! The only thing I did to train him was set up a doggie doorbell – which helped to show Rufus that ringing a bell meant he could go outside to pee. Best. investment. ever. But I would find myself frustrated that Rufus didn’t come when called, would get in my face when I was trying to study, and when he would bark at strangers.
It wasn’t until we’d adopted Turk that I thought, “hey, it might be important to teach this dog what I would like him to do.” So Turk was enrolled in an obedience class and I began to learn about how dogs don’t really understand that “sit” means “sit your bottom down on the ground” – they learn to sit their bottom on the ground by repeated rewards for doing that behavior when this sound that sounds like “sit” comes out of a persons’ mouth. Turk is very food motivated, so he quickly learned all kinds of commands, such as “sit,” “lay down,” “go to your bed,” “dance,” “play dead,” etc. Sounds kind of elementary to me now, but it really was life changing for me to realize that dogs aren’t born with a handle on our language.
Turk and Rufus have been with us now for so long, it is second-nature to speak to them in full-sentences and feel like they understand what I am saying. But I catch myself saying “use your indoor voice” when they are barking – only to have them look at me with a cocked head as if to say, “Huh? We don’t know what that means. Teach us.” Then I have to talk with Daniel or our trainer to see what we should do to teach a specific behavior. And with each foster, I have to be careful not to assume they know the same commands as Turk and Rufus. I have to teach them too.
So, the next time I get frustrated that the dogs aren’t getting what I’m trying to tell them, I am going to remind myself of those times I went to Paris and would have been in big trouble if it weren’t for the locals who took pity on me and my caveman language skills. And instead of getting frustrated/annoyed (as if they aren’t frustrated too), I’m going to figure out how I can teach the dogs better so they do understand.
Boom. There. I’m done. Did that make sense? Yes? No?