Tuesday, October 27, 2009
By Ruthie Bently
One of my personal mantras is “There is no such thing as a dumb animal; they just don’t vocalize in a language we understand.” That doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with your dog, you just have to know how to go about it. I read The Loved Dog by dog trainer Tamar Geller, and she mentions that you should “teach your dog English,” which made sense to me.
Then I ran across an article by someone who feels that while you can teach your dog English, you should not ask them to do too much thinking. In my opinion, this sounds to me like the writer expects you to “dumb things down” for your dog. They mention that because a “pushy owner” thrusts the act of sitting upon their dog, this is why the dog understands the “sit” command. While this may be an effective method of teaching a puppy, it reminds me of that comic strip where the owner is talking to a dog named Ginger. You as the reader of the strip, see the words that the owner is speaking to Ginger. I don’t remember them exactly, but the conversation would look something like this: “Ginger, go sit over there.” Then you see what Ginger hears in a little balloon over her head: “Ginger, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
So how do you go about teaching a dog English, when it is not their first language? You do use word association with the action you would like your dog to perform. But you can use it even when your dog is already doing what you want them to do, which helps your dog learn English faster. For example, if your dog is already sitting down, repeat the word “sit” several times; if they are lying down, you repeat the word “down” several times. Ms. Geller goes on to say that you can use this example with any word you would like to teach your dog.
Though Skye has not been with me since she was a puppy, her personal English vocabulary keeps getting longer. She knows the commands sit, down, stand, stay, and heel. She understands what a “bicky” (biscuit) is, what “kennel up” (going in her crate) means, and she loves “bye bye car,” which means we are going for a ride in my truck.
I did use repetition in the beginning, but after Skye learns a chosen word, I do not keep repeating it. After all, she already knows what I am asking her to do or what I may be offering her, so I do not need to keep repeating it. However, there are times when Skye (like many dogs) will decide to be stubborn, and then I go back to repeating the word as many times as it takes to get her to comply. I am happy to say, those times are few and far between.
For Skye’s benefit, I am trying to learn as much “dog” as I can, which is based on her body language. This helps me understand my four-legged friend better, and our relationship becomes that much sweeter for the understanding.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently