Parlez-vous Doglais? - Originally published April 2011
Eager faces and wagging tails sometimes make us forget that dogs aren’t born understanding “human”. Some aren’t even fluent in “dog”.Training is teaching English (or Farsi, Japanese, etc.) as a second language and introducing “human” culture to another species. Learning another language is challenging. Listening and repeating, mneumonic devices (remember “s-o-c-k-s”?), and computer programs are all methods for human language acquisition, but research shows voluntary immersion is the ideal. Hasn’t everyone fantasized about learning français by spending a year in Provence?
Total immersion in a foreign land increases the rate of language acquisition, but increases stress and depression dramatically. Voluntary immigrants go through a pattern of euphoria, depression and
acceptance as they adapt to their new home. However, remaining in a transferred community of the originating culture can prevent acquisition of a new language/culture from happening at all. Ideally, there is a balance between total immersion and maintaining native language and culture. The same can be applied to dogs.
Many dogs find total immersion into the human world confusing and stressful. Much of the behavior we expect from our dogs goes against dog “culture”. Many behavior issues are dogs reverting to their familiar “native culture”. Fear, pain, and intimidation add stress, making “language/cultural acquisition” more difficult since the dog’s focus shifts from learning to avoidance. By working with dog culture, we can teach behaviors that are relevant to dogs and acceptable in human surroundings.
When training becomes frustrating, take a moment. Remember, that puzzled face and hesitantly wagging tail is an eager foreigner, trying to understand our mysterious, two-legged world. Donde esta la biblioteca?