Thursday, February 19, 2009

Talk to the Animals

There was a story in the news not long ago about how a dog running on a freeway was saved when his rescuer realized from the collar he wore that he might understand not English, but German commands. She told him “platz” - down - and was able to save him.

This was fascinating but not necessarily a surprise. People obviously don’t need to speak English to teach their dogs obedience skills. They’ll use whatever language comes most naturally to them--maybe more than one, in families where multiple languages are spoken. In addition, police dogs are sometimes trained in other countries, so their handlers have to learn the commands the dogs know so they can be utilized best.

I did some Googling and came up with websites that translate common commands into other languages. For example, “sit” is “sitz” in German, “assis” in French, “sedni” in Czech and “zit” in Dutch. “Stay” is “bleib” in German, “reste” in French, “zustan” in Czech and “blijf” in Dutch. The websites I referred to didn’t have translations of “slay”--probably a good thing--but they didn’t directly help me translate the title of my first Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mystery SIT, STAY SLAY. Why Czech and Dutch? The sites said they’re popular training languages. I would have assumed that here, in the U.S., Spanish would be another popular training language, but these sites didn’t include it.

There are also lots of websites that help people interpret their pets’ body language so they know what their pet is trying to convey. Some of them seem fairly self-explanatory, like a dog wagging his/her tail or baring teeth.

In my pet-sitter mysteries, Kendra Ballantyne tells the stories in first person, and she sometimes expresses frustration at not being able to communicate with her dog Lexie, or other dogs, in Barklish, which I intend to mean some kind of straightforward interspecies language. There are definitely days I wish I could communicate with my Lexie and her young Cavalier friend Mystie in a language we all understood.

Then there are my shapeshifter stories for Silhouette Nocturne. My shapeshifters belong to a fictional covert military agency called Alpha Force, and they have a special elixir that not only allows them to shapeshift mostly at will, but also to maintain their human understanding. Those creatures can’t speak English or another human language while in animal form, but they definitely can interpret it.

How about you--how do you communicate with your pets? How would you like to communicate with them?



Janie Emaus said...

Hi Linda,
I don't have a pet anymore, but when I did, I tried to figure out what she was saying by her eyes. As for Max, the boxer that broke my finger, I hope that he's saying he is sorry every time I come into my daughter's house but I don't think he cares because he is still jumping up on me. Maybe he's trying to tell me he loves me!

Linda O. Johnston said...

Janie--Max sounds like a loving dog so I'd like to think he's at least apologizing to you. I'd like to know what my younger Cavalier Mystie thinks that sunbeams and reflections are saying to her, since she's always chasing them!

Shannon said...

Very interesting!

I know that my dogs pay attention to the tone of my voice. If I catch one of them doing something and the dog knows he's in trouble, the dog runs in the other direction when I call. No amount of yelling will get the dog to come to me, but if I use my sweet coaxing tone he can't wait to get to my side.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Tone absolutely does matter, Shannon! I've found that my Lexie assumes when I'm scolding Mystie that I'm mad at her, too. I have to go and find Lexie and make sure she knows she's not in the doghouse!

Kate Hathway said...

Yes, tone is vital. I tell people that yelling in a mad tone of voice might make them feel better, but the dog won't come back to them because they sound so scary. On the other hand, swearing and death threats said in the sweetest, most gentle voice stand a much better chance of having the dog come back (this for when they're running around or away).

Body language to communicate with dogs isn't too hard to learn, and dogs understand it much better and faster than human words in any language. I cannot recommend highly enough books by Patricai McConnell (The Other End of the Leash) and Brenda Aloff (Get Connected with Your Dog, and Canine Body Language, the Photographic Guide) to give people the best info to interact with their dogs.

Janie, you should try turning away from Max every single time he starts jumping up. Ignoring him and not making any sound will communicate that his jumping won't get your attention (and saying 'get down, leave me alone, ooof' actually gives him attention. However, the moment he stands still, or better yet, sits (generally because he's confused by your non-reaction), a very quiet, "good dog" and a treat thrown at his feet (away from you) will show him what kind of behavior gets rewarded. Good Luck!

Kate Hathway said...

Oh, I of course, never mean those death threats - but they let me blow off steam, and sometimes laugh at myself because they sound sillier when said in a really nice tone of voice. (Once my neighbor overheard me saying in a sugary sweet voice "I'm going to turn your fur into nice, warm glove linings once I catch you" and she burst out laughing, which got my dog to run over to her to see if she wanted to play!)

Oh, and for some dogs that are running away or playing 'you-can't-catch-me' with you, I recommend throwing yourself on the ground (or crouching down, depending on ground and body conditions) and pretending to cry as loudly as possible. Many dogs will come up to see if you're okay, and if you gently start petting a foot or muzzle (while you keep crying), you can usually slowly work your way to their collar, and then get a good grip on them. Don't wonder what others might think of your behavior - your dog getting loose, hit by a car, is no time to care about what the neighbors think.

Betty Hechtman said...

I always tells my cats and dog that I love them and I can tell by way they just stay there while I say it that they understand. Maybe the kisses help too.