Do you talk to your dogs? I do, all the time. All day long I talk to them and they listen very well; better than most humans I might add. There are times when I just chat away knowing full well that they are only picking out a few specific words that mean something to them. Then there are times when there is great meaning in my words. When dogs understand a wide range of words or verbal cues, they tend to listen more. I have always taught my dogs the meaning of many words and try to teach them new ones all the time.
Over the years I have seen dogs that have a blank stare when they are talked to. Nothing except the rare "cookie" or "walk" word means anything to them. No one talks to them; at least not like they are expected to understand. Repetition is the key to teaching new words. I am in the process right now of teaching Elsa the names of her stuffed toys. I say their name over and over and over again. Why? For the same reason that we teach children, it makes them smart and capable of learning more.
Elsa has recently learned the joy of not destroying her stuffed animals. For a while nothing was lasting more than a few fleeting moments. Once Luke got a hold of the softy, made a hole and started to de-stuff; then Elsa would finish it off covering the entire living room in fluff. Hmmmmmmm. But after the arrival of Jeffrey, things changed, Elsa loves Jeffrey. I have to make sure that Luke does not get a hold of them though and create the initial hole. Elsa fully enjoys her stuffed guys now and is learning who is who.
Along with teaching more words, switching the words up and using them in new ways helps the learning process. Having been away from home for a while now; everything we are doing is new. New, in that the environment is new. We are still walking, sleeping and eating but the surrounding environment is entirely different from what they are use to. Being able to communicate with Luke and Elsa with words that they understand really helps them to acclimate to it all very easily.
We have a lot of steps here in OR which is a challenge with Luke. Many times when I take them out to pee; it is easier to take one at a time. So after taking Speedy Gonzalez Elsa out, it is Luke's turn. I tell Elsa at the top of the stairs "just Luke," and her ears drop. She clearly knows what that means. She is not happy about it but waits patiently for us to return. Once we get back into the house she gives Luke his greeting and all is good again.
Elsa is an intense listener; Luke was also but his hearing is bad now and he misses a lot of what I say. This is why signal communication is so important (past blog). In his younger days, Luke was an amazing listener. As you all know he is a fussy pants when it comes to eating. But one word alone would get those giant ears of his up and interested. That word is "butter," oh yes, he loves him some butter as does his Mom. :) He would turn his nose up at his meal until I said "do you want some butter on it?" He would immediately change his tune "okay, I'll eat it if there is butter on it." What a guy.
I am constantly searching for new words to teach Elsa. It is all about repetition and association. Association must be there for a dog to "get it." That is our job; create the association that our dogs will understand. The association must be meaningful and useful for a dog. Elsa's favorite stuffed guy right now is Jeffrey, she adores him; although I started the naming with her pink monkey which was her favorite before Jeffrey arrived. I would cheer each time she had her pink "monkey" in her mouth; repeating "monkey" over and over. Before too long I could say "go find monkey" and she would.
"Find" is another word that is very useful. It is a word I used with Tilley all the time. Being an intensely driven retriever; we often lost whatever it was she was retrieving. She may have missed the throw or it landed somewhere that it shouldn't have. I would tell her to "find" it and her whole body changed. She would put her nose to the ground and begin the "finding" process. Elsa has now learned what "find" means as well. I love it. The other day we were out doing some retrieving and she missed the throw because she was watching some dogs in the distance. I told Luke to find the ball as he had been watching and he ran and got it; much to Elsa's displeasure. She had begin to look for it as well but Luke already knew where it was when I asked.
Talking to your dogs is never a waste of time. Not only is it nice as far as having a great listening companion but they learn. Sometimes it may seem that they are not getting it; but if you watch closely you will see some signal letting you know that they understand. Of course there are times when they will simply ignore; just like we tend to do. I love those sideways eyes they give us that let you know they are actually listening. Luke is the King of sideways eyes. Talk, teach and use verbal cues; the more the merrier.