by Cindy Tovar
I had never really thought about my dog’s linguistic abilities. However, one day I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t the only one answering to my mother.
A few years ago, I was in my parents’ kitchen, backing away from my mother playfully. My dog was walking out of the kitchen, turning the corner and heading towards my room, when my mother said to me, “Venga! Venga p’acá!” That’s when I saw my dog suddenly stop and turn around. He poked his head into the kitchen and looked at my mom. When he realized that she wasn’t talking to him, he turned around and started walking towards my room again.
Now, I trained my dog to Come here, Sit, Lay down, and Give me five, but I taught him these commands in English. How could he have understood what my mom had said?
Dogs are smarter than some people think. A recent study found that dogs have the developmental abilities of a human 2-year old, with the average dog capable of learning the meanings of 165 words. Another genius dog has learned the names of over 1000 objects, mostly his toys.
Although my dog wasn’t formally trained to obey commands in Spanish, he did spend a lot of time around my mom, and apparently he was able to pick up a few Spanish words. So is he bilingual?
Not necessarily. Dogs respond to sounds more than the actual words. If I told my dog to “Quit!”, he’d probably Sit. Dogs can’t differentiate whether a word is being said in Spanish or English. They just recognize the sound of the word and associate it with an action or object. So, when my mom said “Venga p’aca!”, he didn’t think to himself, Oh, she’s telling me to sit in Spanish. He just recognized the sound.
But then how did he learn to understand that sound? It turns out that dogs are experts at reading body language. I’m quite sure that over time, my mother waved her hand repeatedly to summon him while she said “Venga p’aca!” It’s the same hand movement he’s seen me do when I’ve told him to “Come here!” After a while, he was able to understand that both sounds are telling him to do the same thing.
In the human world, a dog can appear to be bilingual or even trilingual, depending on the household. But in the dog world, the sounds are all one language to them. Still, it does sound impressive to tell people your dog is bilingual, so go ahead and brag. Why not? I’m sure your dog won’t mind.
To learn more about Cindy, visit Dagny’s Dichotomy.
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the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.