In my last blog, I wrote about how often us humans turn to our most natural means of communication – verbal language – when trying to communicate with our dogs and how confusing that must be to our dogs at times.
I can think of a couple of examples of times when my dog, Tucker, has learned the associations between words and objects that I never intentionally taught him. For example, he knows the word “squirrel.” We have a bird feeder that is fastened with suction cups to our dining room window. Every now and then, an enterprising squirrel will figure out how to get up there, much to Tucker’s excitement. I can only assume that when this happens, we regularly say “squirrel!” in my house, because now if you say the word “squirrel” he runs to that window and looks up at the feeder.
Tucker has also learned that if I say, “Go get a toy” that I’m willing to play with him. He’ll look around the floor or run to his basket and grab a toy and bring it to me. I never explicitly trained him to do that and, truthfully, I’m not quite sure how he figured it out, but the reward he gets for performing this behavior (a game of tug or a few toss of a ball) has made it very reliable.
Of course the classic examples are the words “walk” and “treat.” Most owners don’t explicitly set out to teach these words, but over time the dog makes the association between those words and something that they really like. Many dogs figure out that “Wanna go for a walk?” is quickly followed by getting the leash and heading out the door. How many of you have resorted to spelling out W-A-L-K in front of the dog if you aren’t planning on taking him out now? How many of you yell out “Treat!” when you really need your dog to come to you quickly?