Dog lovers, if able, will do cartwheels over this Blog (so will cat lovers). For those humans who do not have or want companion animals – SKIP!
We humans express ourselves vocally with forty-seven sounds. We place those sounds into various combinations and our average adult knows and uses, approximately 30,000 word sounds out of these combinations.
Dogs can only express themselves vocally by barking, whining, yelping, growling, groaning, murmuring,and howling.
Several very important differences between people and dogs are the ‘voice box’ (larynx), shape of the face (humans), and the shape of the muzzle (dogs). Our larynx lies deep down in our throat, consequently, the muscles of the larynx, tongue and lips move freely, giving us the ability to speak. The dog’s larynx lies flat in his muzzle, thus its muscles cannot move up and down to give speech. Regardless, the average house dog usually learns up to thirty of our word/sounds and has the ability to learn many more.
The first necessary word/sounds dog owners usually teach their pets are no, sit, down and come followed by other household sounds (mainly commands). While dogs do not have interest in those word/sounds, they do learn what these submissive human word/sounds mean. A dog’s first attention is on physical action.
REMEMBER RULE: All animals are self-fulfilling. They want to do what interests them and makes them happy. They avoid what does not interest them. If, however, you begin teaching your dog word/sounds of things that he is interested in – like food, dish, treat, bone, ball – he’ll then go gaga in wanting to learn more word/sounds. He’ll also become more obedient in answering submissive obedience word/sounds because it’s self-fulfilling for him to know what’s going on.
REMEMBER RULE: Dogs have four basic survival drives – food drive, sex drive, prey drive, and avoidance drive. We harness those drives through training. Teaching our dogs some of our word/sounds is comparatively easy. It only requires a clear voice (clean enunciation), repetition (rote training), and patience on your part. While teaching each word/sound, you must not communicate the word in sentences. You may do so only when the dog truly understands what each sound means. You don’t want to hear “mumble, mumble.” Neither does the dog.
First words taught should be about food. Food words help us harness the dog’s food drive and make word/sounds interesting to them. Teaching Tips: Each time you fill his food bowl and before you place it down for him to eat, tell him what it is. Use dish or food. Repeat the word several times while he eats, so he can begin to associate the word/sound with what he is doing. Dish has a far better sound than food. The word food can sound like poo or foo. These words have negative connotations. When you take a treat out of a container, say treat in a lilting, joyful tone, and when your hand goes down to offer it to him, again let him know what it is – treat. Do the same with a bone. You will notice how quickly he recalls these words.
Each time you place his water bowl down, say water. Water will be the difficult word in this set of words form to remember. Why? Water is necessary for life, but the drinking of it is automatic, an unconscious instinct (like breathing), so the word does not instantly arouse his attention. He will always remember where to find his bowl of water, however, because water is the essence of life.
Test his understanding of each word/sound after several days (or weeks) of repetition by repeating with the food or treat in a different area of your home. Why? You want to be certain he understands that the same word/sound describes the same item or action no matter where he is. ‘Place’ teaching is necessary in all dog training. The dog’s territorial understanding is quite different then ours. If you do not follow through with place training, he’ll only be sure of the word in the exact territory where you first taught it. When you believe he understands, take him to a third area as you repeat the word and action. And don’t be impatient if at first he doesn’t associate or is interested. Each dog learns at his own ability, not what you may think it should be.
Take it easy. Although you do not want to give him too many word/sounds to start off with, each time you perform something for or to him, let him hear the one word associated with the action. Pretty soon his tail will wag and his ears will perk up when he realizes he knows what a word/sound means. If it’s a thrill for a human to learn something that interests that person, think what a thrill it must be for a dog to learn word/sounds that interest and help him fit in with his human environment. Your dog will commit dish or food, treat, and bone to memory fairly quickly. They hold total interest since the food drive is the greatest of his important drives – food drive, pack drive, avoidance drive, and prey drive.
Leash, collar, walk, car, keys. These are exciting word/sounds for dogs to learn. They pick up the imitation actions (your body movements) immediately because dogs’ attention is always first focused on physical actions. This is one reason they don’t always pay attention to the word/sounds you are making. Many dogs, when they hear the tinkling of car keys, go rushing to the door in the hopes they can enjoy a car ride. This tells you that teaching these words should be delivered in a lilting voice (key sounds tinkle). Anyway, dogs respond eagerly to higher pitched word/sounds. He’ll learn words easier by the tone you use, although the word keys will probably be the most difficult in this set, because he doesn’t interact with it. He responds to the physical action of the tinkle of keys hitting together.
REMEMBER RULE: Your dog will learn word/sounds easier by the tone you use. He responds first to the physical action.
Next come toys. A few dogs won’t initially desire to play with toys. These dogs usually have had little or no whelping/litter box or early puppyhood experience with toys. It’s always important to teach a puppy how to enjoy the animal toy world. If not, begin with a ball. Tell him, play time. Shake a ball excitedly while lifting your voice. His interest will expand, because shaking and chasing an object is part of the dog’s important prey drive. Throw the ball, repeating the word ball as you do. If he only goes to look at the ball, that’s okay. For the first sessions, pick up the ball yourself and throw it again. Even the most reluctant dog’s interest will increase if you let him realize that returning it to you means you throw it for him again. If he still appears to be an impossible student to teach to play with toys, or to retrieve, coat a small part of the ball with peanut butter or offer a treat when he returns with it and drops it on the ground. When the lights turn on in his brain and he cocks his head ever so slightly, high praise (and a treat) is an essential reward.
It’s best when teaching toy names to begin with only one other toy in sight with the ball. As you progress, you’ll be amazed how quickly he is able to distinguish one toy from another. In fact, he might decide he likes the second toy better than the ball, and returns to shake and play with it. You should end that session there. He needs to enjoy. Example: add elephant and have him differentiate ball from elephant, praising highly when he makes the correct choice. Play with these two toys a few days before you add another.
REMEMBER RULE: Even as you are teaching your dog word/sounds, he is also memorizing your body movements. So be consistent in your body movement when you teach. Physical body movement is part of one of the dog’s most important senses – TOUCH.