I know, I know; your dog can understand everything you say, and he can spell “P-a-r-k” and “W-a-l-k-i-e-s”, too!
But NO! Dogs only learn as much English as we teach them. What they do learn really well is how to read subtle body language and vocal inflection. (This was first identified at the turn of the 20th century, in the case of “Clever Hans”, a horse who was said to perform complex math computations. Read here!)
Of course, it’s fun to think of your dog understanding your every word, as in this William Wegman video with his dog, Man Ray:
But there’s a downside: If your dog doesn’t seem to understand, you then tend to blame him for being stubborn or resentful, when he’s usually just clueless, because you’re not communicating clearly.
So, what’s the solution? It’s easy! Teach your dog “English as a Second Language”! A great way to start doing this is Ian Dunbar’s “Lure-Reward” training, shown here:
(disclaimer: Often, with expert dog trainers, their perfectionism may intimidate you from even trying their techniques…don’t let this happen. Every dog is unique, and you may need to adjust to your dog’s learning style. Just do the best you can…this may be the topic of a whole ‘nother blog post…)
With this sort of method, your dog can learn “ESL” word by word. Just remember to keep commands simple. If Rover understands “Rover, Sit”, it does not follow that he’ll understand, “Hey, Rover, come over here and sit down!” How confusing is that? Three different commands (come, sit, and down) in one sentence! And, although it may seem like fun to impress your friends with Rover’s understanding of English, you’re doing your dog a genuine disservice by taking something which should be simple and making it difficult.