dog language image of dog wearing Mexican sombrero painting by Paola Bassanese

What Language Does Your Dog Speak?

Article in partnership with Day Translations. Pets are often considered members of the family and we speak to them on a regular basis (often in a baby voice). Dogs, in particular, can understand a number of words when humands speak directly to them. So, depending on where you live in the world, you speak to your pet dog (or dogs when you have more than one) in your own local language, while a dog owner in an another part of the globe will speak in a completely different language.

Talking To Your Dog

Because dogs can understand when humans talk to them, particularly when they give a voice command that is accompanied by a gesture, it is worth exploring the link between languages and pet dogs.

Traditionally, dog commands were given in German, for example:

  • Sitz, to sit;
  • Steh, to stand;
  • Bleib, to stay.

Why is it that German dog commands are very common? This is a practice from dog trainers who have noticed that strong-sounding words with harsh consonants get more attention from dogs. Dogs are very much attuned to sounds and those sounds that have more impact will generate more attention, diverting a dog’s focus to the source of such noises.

Also, dogs often outsmart their owners, so giving specific commands in a different language can cut through a dog’s selective hearing. In fact, dogs can choose to ignore some commands if they don’t suit them in that precise moment, for example when they want to play instead of sitting still.

Having said that, it is not important to use German as a rule to communicate with your dog. Your dog will understand a few key words in your chosen language that you associate with specific actions.

Language Is Important For Dogs

One day, while scrolling through social media videos, I came across a story of a dog who was adopted by a family after living with another family. While I don’t remember all the details of the story itself, perhaps the initial family had to move abroad, one fact that stuck in my mind was that the dog could not quite understand what its adoptive family was saying to it.

The new owners asked the previous ones about the dog and whether they had any information or advice to give which would make the dog adapt better in its new environment.

It turned out that the previous family was speaking to the dog in a different language, so the dog could understand commands perfectly when they were given in that language. The new owners decided to use translating tools to help them communicate with their dog and save themselves a lot of headaches and time trying to get the dog to sit, stand or any other command they used every day.

Say, for example, that a rescue dog was first in foster care in a Spanish family and then it was adopted by a French family. In that case, asking the dog to sit would be “Siéntate” in Spanish and “Assis” in French. Isn’t that fascinating?

A similar scenario would be if you are dog sitting for people who have trained their dog in a foreign language to your native tongue. Dog sitting is one of those services that can be done anywhere in the world and it is also a good option to have when travelling because it can reduce accommodation costs. In this case it is worth agreeing with the dog owners what the best commands are to use in their language to get the dog to cooperate.

Do You Need a Dog Interpreter?

Well, it depends. Many dogs are exported each year to different countries from where they were bred so in these cases it can be a good idea to use an interpreter to agree on set commands to deploy regularly. When a dog is raised with one language and then the ownership is transferred to someone who speaks in a different language, it will take a while for the new owner to understand what the dog needs and build rapport with it. The best case scenario is to get help from someone who is also experienced in dog training. So, if you ever want to consider an alternative career, maybe a “dog intepreter” is a role that is right up your street.