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Speaking Their Language: Part Two

November 16th, 2012 | Posted by Emily in Doggies! | Fostering. | Polly Pocket | Rufus | Turk's Takeover

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).

Rufus wholeheartedly believes he is human. No need for translation in his opinion.                                                             (Photo by Fido Fetch Photography)

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.

“Stop barking” means I should keep doing the same thing, right?

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.

Rufus thought he was too cute to pee outdoors for awhile.

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.

I’m rocking this “down-stay” thing, Mama.

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.

This is “stay” right, Foster Mama?

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?

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21 Responses

  • avatar Marisa says:

    I often find myself speaking in full sentences to June – sometimes I forgot that she is a dog, not a human!

  • avatar Claudia says:

    What a great post and reminder! And the boys look very handsome in their bowties, and baby Rufus in crazy cute.

  • I really have to come up with something better than “Give me a kiss” as a cue for the Badgershrooms to slobber on my face.

  • avatar Keri says:

    Very good post! More people who own dogs need to understand this. I don’t understand why people just yell at their dogs instead of taking a few minuets a day to teach it to them. Dogs understand our body language which in turn helps them understand our sentences as we bond with them, but it still takes time to learn that. I sometimes catch myself saying different commands to Trinity when we are training. My ‘heel’ turns into ‘come with me’ and my ‘take it’ turns into ‘get it’ and then sometimes when she is out side my ‘here’ turns into ‘come on lets go’ or ‘were going inside now’. Just when she thinks she knows the command I twist it up on her, poor dog, lol!

    • avatar Emily says:

      I completely know what you mean. I have to be cognizant of the phrases I’m using! I constantly forget if the command is “go to your bed” or “go lay down.” Poor things, they just look at me like I’m nuts sometimes!

  • You should retrain your dogs cues in French…y’know…just for the challenge. :)

    I am constantly amazed at how many words dogs inadvertently pick up, as in, I didn’t mean to teach them that “Who’s hungry?” means rush to the kitchen and start drooling on the floor. It just kinda happened.

  • It makes perfect sense! One of the things I’ve always said to people about dogs is that it is our responsibility to teach them to live in our world.

  • avatar Pitlandia says:

    Excellent post! I often find myself expecting that Athena understand a command after a few minutes of training her only to find out the next day that she has no idea what I’m talking about. I always have to remind myself that hearing a word 5 times does not train a dog to know the command. They must practice it HUNDREDS of time for it to start to click. We humans have to take it slow to help our dogs be the most successful!

    P.S.- I love that you tell them to “use their indoor voices.” How teacherly of you =)

  • avatar Kirsten says:

    Yes it must be very tough for them, though I often have to remind myself that they probably don’t understand most of my full sentences. I am always impressed when I hear about dogs’ capacity to learn lots of words. I haven’t taught mine many words, because I know I’d forget which words I’m using for things and confuse the poor dogs further :)

  • LOVE this post. Of course, all animal lovers have probably been in the position where we talk to our pets like they are our best friend. However, it is another thing entirely to expect our animals to respond to our commands without the proper training. I wish this could be explained in such simple terms to every owner! Our dogs deserve patience and understanding in their language… and they will repay us ten-fold!

  • BabyGirl sometimes doesn’t respond to a command,she knows the command but chooses to ignore me. When I say” Are you NOT listening to me” she then does what I told her without repeating the command. My neighbor laughed so hard when she saw this. Threw the years I have never been successful with “Turn Around ” but for some reason with BabyGirl and Midnight I have had no problem with this command . I use this command when we are off leash walking. I guess the no leash is a big incentive .

    • avatar Emily says:

      Ha ha! That is so funny! Sometimes I feel like Polly expects me to “ask” her multiple times before she will comply. Maybe I should ask her if she is listening or not! 😉

  • avatar Emily says:

    My comments are are as follows:
    1) I love Rufus’ tongue in the first picture
    2) This made me cry–not a shocker
    3) We talk extensively to our dogs–I’m convinced they understand
    4) That last picture of Polly is breathtaking. She looks so built!
    5) Your points are 100% correct and this is a great post

  • avatar rachel says:

    This is so true! Dogs also really relate to hand signals and body language. My dogs think it’s about the most exciting thing ever when at laugh or even just smile at them. And of course tone of voice. It’s mean but hasn’t every one told their dog “you’re such a bad dog” or “you’re so stupid” in a sweet tone and they wag their tail with glee?

  • Makes alot of sense to me, I now cringe a little when I here people yell at their dogs too stop doing something or when they tell their dog (and ours) to sit over and over again without success – usually without having the dogs attention in the first place. I always talk to my dogs as if they understand, they are my friends and my family and I love that they just ‘listen’ even if it is just because they’re expecting a treat :-)

  • avatar Laurie says:

    I loved your post…I have also told my dogs to use their “inside voice”…

  • avatar tholupka says:

    Love this!! The truth is, dogs have no idea what we are saying until we teach them and the same goes for what they try to communicate to us!

  • avatar Debra says:

    Waht’s really funny is that sometimes when Ray (or one of the cats) is ignoring me, I say, “I know you speak English” to them. :-)