Monday, December 17, 2012

Doggie-Vous Francais?

One day last week, I saw on some news site or other, that there was a proposal to make sure all dogs in Montreal understood cues in both English and French. The notion would be that since in that part of Canada, lots of folks speak French, there shouldn't be linguistic barriers if you were interacting with stranger-dogs and stranger-people. Yearly testing to make sure owners were complying, etc. The thought of legislated language requirements in dog training makes me suffer ennui.

Of course, it was evidently a spoof. But that doesn't stop it from being an interesting thought. Does your dog understand more than one spoken human language? How is your dog doing with just English?

I took French in both elementary school and high school, and I have previously toyed with the notion of teaching Elka her cues again, in French. And then teaching them again, in German (does it surprise you that the few German words I know are to do with dogs or World War II? It probably shouldn't), just to have an authentic Doberman. Our cue for her to heel on the left is Fuss, and the German word for sit is Sitz, which is remarkably similar to the English.

In general, it seems that dogs go more off of body language and intonation than actual words spoken, though I've found there are limits even to that. One Christmas, as we were getting ready to return home, I turned to Elka and asked her in a very excited voice if she wanted to stay in New Jersey with my grandparents instead of coming with me. She cocked her head and gave me a "You've got to be kidding me" style of look.

Elka also has several cues on hand signal. Sit, down, high five, and spin are among them. As I explored in The Silent Treatment, we can get along quite well, at least for limited times, without my actually speaking to her. But, in a time when it's hard to assume that people will pick up after their dogs or perhaps even use a leash, to impose other training restrictions is probably just a pipe dream. Or a Canadian gag. 

But it is fun to think about, n'est-ce pas?


  1. I'm a "bilingual" dog... but my staff said I don't obey in any language (that's not true I accept the treat-language)

  2. Our local police dogs are taught to respond to commands in German, mostly so that they are not confused if an unauthorized person gives them an English command.

  3. I just speak English...I been thinking about learning Spanish, but have not tried learning yet!


  4. We're single language/hand gesture around here. Interestingly, though, we did have some families in our training classes using Spanish commands with the dog. They had to teach the trainer what word to use.

  5. Well, Ma would say that I don't understand ANY language, butts that's not true, I just CHOOSE to not understand English. BOL
    Okays, seriously, I understand Ma's 'original' hand signals and English of course. I did try to order Rosetta Stone online, butts Ma's credit card was maxed out already! Oh, well...


  6. Georgia is learning Spanish, just in case we make The Big Move. She already knows 4 commands pretty well. Sientate (sit), abajo (down), venga (come) and mirame (look at me). I'm working on stop, wait, outside, inside, upstairs and downstairs. She helps me build my own vocabulary! I also sign my commands in case she one day loses her hearing when she gets old. I reckon it's useful for anyone, human or dog, to know more than one language :)

  7. Hmm. Elli has Arriba for stand (spanish). Mostly, I just choose weird English words for cues -- Mamba (my fav candy) for Front and Squid for (fold back down) -- because the defaults (come and down) are hard for me to sound happy about. And Elli has no clue what mambas and squids actually are, so, it works. :)

  8. Kyuss was trained all his commands in German along with hand signals. It made it easy when I also transitioned him to English commands.
    As I now live in Quebec, and my husband is French, he also now understands some (not all) French commands such as assis(sit), rester(stay), ici(come).

    So, Kyuss is kinda tri-lingual, or quadra-lingual if you include the hand signals. =O

  9. Moms K9 at work speak Navajo, German and Ukraine
    Benny & Lily

  10. Morgan and Kuster are both bilingual, knowing both German and English, and all four dogs know sign language besides spoken English. I do know some French sign language, but not well enough to teach it to the dogs.