One of the most wonderful things about having a pet is the strong connection and bond we share with them. Have you ever talked to your dog, and watched as they seemed to listen intently, tilting their head and hanging onto your every word?
But do they really understand us - and what about when we speak to them in different languages? Is it possible for them to become bilingual?
Dogs and Human Language
Do dogs even understand human language? As it turns out, yes and no. Dogs process language similar to the way human children (up to the age of 14 months) do. That’s to say that they understand commands and familiar words, but have trouble distinguishing between commands, and words that sound similar. For example, if you tell your dog to “drop” or “bop” they may hear no difference between the two.
However, we do know that they do listen to what you say, and they comprehend at least some of it. As for how much, no one is quite sure- perhaps with further research, we’ll learn more about how much of their bedtime stories our furry friends are actually understanding.
Are dogs capable of understanding more than one language? Yes they are, as long as they’re taught from an early age - like human children. In a recent study, it was determined that dogs can tell the difference between their “native” language (the one in which they were trained) and other languages.
During the study, dogs were played recordings of the classic book “The Little Prince”, in their native language, and then in a language to which they hadn’t yet been exposed. During the study, brain scans were taken of each dog. The results show that their brains reacted differently to the unknown language, indicating that they can distinguish between various human languages.
This indicates that if you are bilingual, and you’d like your dog to be as well, it’s possible to train them to understand multiple languages, at least when it comes to common commands.
Training a Bilingual Dog
The keys to training a dog to become bilingual are consistency and repetition - just like teaching them how to sit. For example, if your dog is already fluent in English commands, use this as a jumping off point. Say the English command, and then immediately follow it with the same command in whichever language you’d like your dog to learn. Another key to training is to reward them with one of their favorite dog treats each time they correctly obey.
Be sure to use the same word to indicate a command every time, especially in languages that might have many word options that mean the same thing. Once your puppy reaches genius-levels of obedience when responding to commands in the second language, be sure to continue reinforcing that behavior with consistent treats for a job well done!
Aren’t our dogs amazing? Not only do they fill our lives with love, spread joy everywhere they go, and keep our lives exciting, but they also have the capacity to be bilingual (or tri-lingual, if you consider the fact that they’re already fluent in ‘dog’!) Learning a second language can be challenging for anyone, so if you succeed in training your dog to become bilingual, be sure to show them your support and admiration by constantly telling them how much you love them - in both languages, of course.
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