Speaking in tongues

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Not as a part of religious practice. To dogs. I wonder if other dog owners have their own, made up languages – words/phrases/sounds that they use when communicating with their dogs. I most certainly do. Hoping nobody would ever hear me (oi, yum, ta-dah, achoo, sheeoo-sheeoo, yaooh- and other utterances that I won’t risk spelling). Obviously, I rely on the dogs reacting to the intonation rather than meaningful words here.

However, dogs recognise words as well. Try saying ‘walkies’ or whatever you use to indicate a walk using different intonations-the dog might be confused, but will understand.

The way dogs distinguish words and languages has always fascinated me. As always, I experiment on my dogs. I use different languages for different purposes. Commands are in Norwegian (no retroflex flap, more alveoral tap or trill when pronouncing ‘r’) and everything else is in English. Ardbeg was a multilingual dog, though Brian doesn’t seem to care that the sounds I utter when I want something from him are different from my ordinary way of communicating with him. Lily knows the difference but she’s highly trainable and reacts fast to all sort of signals, non-verbal as well as verbal. So, hard to say if swapping the language has any significant effect.

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she is smarter than she looks (in this photo at least)

If you want to find out a little bit more about dogs and human languages this article can be a good starting point.

If you want more, try this .

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25 thoughts on “Speaking in tongues

  1. It’s entirely English, except when I call Fergus my Little Liebchen, but I’m am amazed at how vast is his vocabulary — names of toys, types of food and treats, different commands when we’re outside and he’s off lead. My favorite, though, is nonverbal, when I’ve popped popcorn and he wants that treat. I can just hold it in my hand and look him in the eye with a smile. He starts by sitting, then lying down, then rolling over, and, finally, hopping up to give me a kiss. A repertoire that gets him a laugh and a treat every single time.

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    1. Funnily enough, I call the dogs kjæreste, elskelig or min skat…can’t help it, in my brain it’s the Norwegian words that carry more emotional weight I guess. And I absolutely agree: it’s amazing how many words dogs can recognise-though mine are not as linguistically developed as Fergus. Probably my fault-I use gestures alongside verbal commands even if they can hear me and just gestures when they can’t.
      Well, Fergus is definitely very clever-he’d get a treat from me for all the hard work 🙂

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  2. Oh yes, I’m interested in all of this. I have a feeling that our dog, with whom we speak in three languages, understands me because he clearly feels what I wish to say even if I don’t say anything at all. Sometimes it’s enough to look in a direction and think it. He is four now, which means that he has established that it’s in his interest if he does what we wish. 🙂

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    1. Three languages is impressive! Dogs understand the intonation, even if the words are unfamiliar 🙂 And they are really observant-so quickly learn all our non-verbal signs 🙂

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  3. So glad I am not the only one who interprets the dog ‘yaaarfffs’ and so forth! Mine understand hand gestures and interpret when I do a couple specific routines that a walk is coming. ( not going for leashes or saying “walkie” ) , but rather when I get a second cup of morning coffee, a walk will be starting in the next 10 minutes, or when I get a specific pair of boots (saturdays) — then they ‘know’ we are going to the park.

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    1. It’s very true-dogs have this, quite spooky, talent of predicting the future (especially when we have a set routine that we’re not even aware of).
      Funnily enough, when I put the ‘work’ harness on my dogs they know it’s the bestest, longest, most exhausting but oh so wanted walk…(what I in my stupidity call ‘training’).
      Dogs are smart-we need to watch out 😉

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  4. I have a couple of bunnies now, well, that’s what I call them but they are actually a cat and a dog. The cat is still a kitten and is named Pippi (the name comes from a TV series which was popular in Europe in the late 70s) and Lucky. They are both Khmer (Cambodian) but they understand English very well. Lucky was raised by Chinese people so she understands a bit of Chinese as well. I took Lucky with me because the hostel where she was staying was likely to shut down and nobody seemed to care about her fate. She was heavily malnourished and a little fearful. I found Pippi when he was 6 weeks old, crying desperately in a desolated area in Siem Reap. We have been together ever since, now they are both well fed and live with me in a nice green area. When I speak to Pippi I substitute all the r with the letter v because I believe he speaks like that. With Lucky, I just used the standard baby voice – she loves it!

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    1. Oh, their stories are really interesting (sad but interesting). They definitely are proper linguists, too 😉
      I used to love Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krusmynta Efraimsdotter Långstrump (or Pippi Longstockings) and wanted to call one of my dogs Pip Gunnar Gunnarson Långstrump but my husband’s unhappy face would haunt me forever-so I gave up on that.
      All the best to your little ‘bunnies’-it’s so good to know they’ve got you 🙂 x

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  5. I know quite a few terms of endearment in Italian..don’t ask…so I often say them to the cats..lol…my little dog was deaf as she got older so I sort of developed more gestures with her. I find now, Mum is mostly verbal with her dogs, while when I am with Rocky I mostly uses gestures, like pointing to my eyes so he knows to look at me for the next gesture..hands out palm down for a sit… he’s bright and a quick learner! But it just goes to show how clever animals are at communicating with a completely different species! Interesting post 🙂 xx

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    1. Well, Italian is the language of love (or so my Italian students have told me). I always admire how fast animals can learn-it’s usually humans who are unable to explain what they mean (or want). I’m definitely a huge fan of Rocky, he looks so sweet and smart-I’m glad your Mum decided to have another dog-now you have to write about both Erin and Rocky more!

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      1. Oh yes, new sources for material are always welcome and dogs – and cats too of course – are endlessly fascinating both for their personalities, our relationships with them and the way they interact with the world and things around them 🙂

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    1. I’m not. My family are. My mum was. And even though I actually think in English, there are some words that will always ‘feel better’ in Norwegian.

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      1. Where in Norway? (If you don’t mind me asking) We live on Stad (pronounced “statt”), the westernmost peninsula famous (or should I say notorious?) for its weather. (Hence “mutte på Stad”, “mutte” being a common loving abbreviation for Alaskan Malamute – but you probably know that 🙂 )

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      2. Mum’s family live in Tromsø 🙂 I’ve only been there once, though (and it was cold, even for me). My family’s actually really mixed-up and my Mum’s nationality was not officially Norwegian (I realised that after my last comment) but Scottish. It’s a long story, a bit of bitterness and history that wasn’t all about people as individuals but politics.
        I tend to go to Norway every year (well, you probably won’t be impressed as we usually choose the more touristy places or bigger cities) -this year it was going to be Flåm, but we’ll need to cancel or postpone our holiday 😦
        You’re so lucky to live in such a beautiful place!

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      3. Thank you 🙂 I have never been to Tromsø, but I would very much like to go some day. I believe the climate up there is more polar dog-friendly than where we live (average temperature 10 centigrades most of the year, and lots of rain). If you want to see this part of the country next time you go to Norway, you are more than welcome – we’ll show you around 🙂 (We have some tourist attractions in this area too, e.g. Vestkapp and Selje Monastery, but they aren’t exactly visited by hordes of tourists 😉 )

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      4. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll plan our trip round there 🙂
        And I like the less touristy places – we’re just not brave enough to go somewhere off the beaten track 🙂
        I live in West Midlands (UK), in the middle of a smallish city (Worcester) so if you’re ever in the neighbourhood, give me a shout 🙂 It’s rather mild here (summers can actually be really hot) but it doesn’t rain as much as in other parts of the UK. Well, there’s no snow here, though (ever, even if some people say it’s ‘snowing’, believe me, it’s not, it melts on its way down to the ground)

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      5. There is a direct boat service from Bergen up here, and a bus service from Oslo almost up here. We’ll take care of you and certainly take you off the beaten track 🙂 You on Facebook?

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