Perhaps you've heard this one before. You see many people buying or adopting German Shepherd puppies and begin inquiries to teach the dog commands in German.
I have experience of dog owners coming to me, with this specific request. It’s a bit of a struggle as a dog trainer because I am speaking to the owners in English about the rules and tools used to train (teach a person to fish sort of a thing) but the dog needs to learn to respond to German commands. It becomes confusing for the dog and confusing for the owners, not to mention confusing for the dog trainer as well.
Before I mention why this type of a training method doesn’t work, so effectively, I’ll explain in what circumstances it would work.
1. Teaching your dog, a foreign language works if, and only if, your dog is already obedience trained.
When your dog can run through a basic set of commands using nonverbal cues, he or she is ready to up their game to verbal cues. You must go through initial training before you introduce verbal cues. The verbal cue is anything which feels natural to you, and feels natural to your dog as recognizing as a repeated cue.
2. Repetition. Repetition. Dogs learn by repetitive tonality and repetition in verbal and nonverbal cues.
You must know how to comfortably call out a cue in a foreign language for your dog to learn the new language.
If it’s not rolling off your tongue naturally, your dog won’t recognize it as repetitive and thus training becomes inhibited. Learn the new language yourself, and then repeat it to your dog in a consistent and even tone.
Here’s some of the common pitfalls for many owners unsuccessful with the technique of teaching a foreign language to their dog:
1. In the instance you and your household are being robbed or attacked, your hormones are spiking.
Adrenaline is pumping like a river without a dam. You're in that fight or flight mode. You, as a Native English speaker, think, act, and respond in English. Unless German is your primary language, or you are fluent in German, your brain will have the most extreme difficulty issuing a command that is foreign to you.
2. Your dog isn't foolish enough to take commands in complete obedience from everyone he or she meets.
Your dog is a highly intelligent creature. These guys know the very sounds and nuances of yours and others’ voices. No, or Nein (German for no), sounds very different when you say it and a stranger says it.
Don’t presume you should teach your German Shepherd or any other breed for that matter a foreign language because everyone around you can say, sit, stay, heel. Have confidence that your dog is going to obey you, and not a person he or she has just met. Your dog is smarter than the movies.
3. I said it earlier, dog training works because of tonality.
That's all your dog is focusing on. As puppies most of us trainers recommend most dogs learn the difference between Go! Go! Go! and No! No! No! Initially, these two words are heard by the dog as exciting tones, so they don't understand the difference between the verbal commands. So, you introduce the words later, teach your dog his or her cues with hand signals or body signals first.
Once the dog understands the body posture or hand signal, you introduce the word second. It's the only way a dog understands the difference between two commands delivered in a state of excitement.
4. There is a good chance your pronunciation is incorrect.
A professional trainer will teach you to train your dog in whatever language you've selected. But, they may not have specialized in the language. But because neither you nor your trainer are fluent native speakers, and may even have different regional accents, what you say and what the trainer says will be different.
Remember, the dog is listening to the tonality and consistency in the relaying of the word. Go may sound like No because they have the same ending emphasis and number of syllables, but they are two different commands.
Save some money and don't confuse your dog because you're trying to learn a new language while your dog is learning his or her first human language.
Melissa Hoover is a certified Dog Trainer, holding a B.S. in Animal Science Behavior from Purdue University. She is a vegetarian of 17-years, an animal right’s activist, and hosts her website LetMeDogThisForYou.com where dog and animal lovers are welcomed to learn new and interesting animal science trivia. To Melissa, animals aren’t just animals, they are members of the family – only with a little more fur than the rest of the members.