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Training Dogs to Understand Our Language



For as long as people have had dogs as companions, few have tried to actually teach them our language to any extent other than a few obedience commands. In the past decade this has changed. Several studies have been done in which Border Collies, known as the most astute breed of canines, have been taught from 500 to over 1,000 words, including verbs and nouns.

Dog trainers often excel at bridging the communication gap by using positive reinforcement shaping techniques, teaching their canine students how to reason and throw out behaviors that might earn them rewards. When a specific behavior does earn rewards it is repeated. A trainer builds on that success by increasing the criteria of the behavior toward a more complex behavior chain. For example a simple sit/stay can turn into a sit/stay holding a ball while the trainer is out of sight.

It has been proven that many species of animals are highly in tune with body language. From hand, arm and foot movements to facial expressions, head movements and even whether or not a person is holding their breath or relaxed. Clever Hans, a German horse in the early 1900s, was taught to read human body language in order to answer math problems. At the time people thought this to be magic, though it was merely very good training. 

A few years ago, Dr. John W. Pilley, a Psychologist in South Carolina, purchased a Border Collie pup he named, Chaser. Each day he taught Chaser one or two new words, often working with the dog 4-5 hours per day. As Border Collies were bred to work all day, they have long attentions spans and high motivation, whereas many breeds would simply quit after a half hour of work.

As Chasers’ vocabulary grew, Dr. Pilley would have to write the names of the objects he used so that he could remain consistent. Once Chaser learned the names of over 1000 objects he began to teach the dog grammar and syntax. He taught Chaser how to use different actions with the objects instead of merely fetching them – paw or nose an object.

Dr. Pilley is one of several researchers who aspire to bridge the language gap between humans and animals, using this knowledge to learn more about our own learning concepts and evolution. However, without first understanding how the animals themselves communicate and using their own techniques to bridge the gap, one cannot learn much more than how to effectively give a dog a command. And, little is transferred into understanding human learning better as we learn words using context as well as the names of objects.

How difficult would it be to use our bodies the way dogs do? Impossible, as we don’t have four legs and a tail, or moveable ears. We cannot use our scent to purposefully convey an emotion or mood. And, we do not yet understand the entire spectrum of canine vocalizations as many breeds differ in their deliveries. In addition, for us to effectively and properly train our dogs, it is important to see some reliable tutorials and helpful tips. You can see a lot of online content about training dogs. You can see post by clicking the link.

Though we cannot effectively speak canine 100%, we are slowly making breakthroughs toward this ability. Along the way we are gaining more respect for these sentient creatures who have been our companions for millennia.

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