SIT! SIT! Ok, c’mon now SIT, SIT, SIT, ok? Alright you rotten little fluff ball, get your butt on the floor now, dang it! SIT, SIT, SIT!

The preceding sentence was actually quoted verbatim from a dog owner I heard recently. His voice never got angry, but allowed maybe just a hint of frustration to seep into his tone. I don’t think the dog noticed. He was watching a Stellar Jay in a nearby tree and was far more interested in the antics of the bird than he was in the stream of nonsense flowing from his owner’s mouth.

Do you think that maybe we talk a bit too much to our dogs at times? I do. I think we babble almost incessantly to our dogs and it serves to convince them that most of what comes out of our mouths is just noise.

I’m not talking about the kind, loving words we give to them while we are cuddled together by the campfire after a long day. I’m talking about the endless stream of blah blah that we use in place of concise commands or cues.

Audio geeks talk about a concept called signal to noise ratio. The signal to noise ratio is a comparison of the level of background noise to the actual signal in an audio circuit. Another way to think of the signal to noise ratio is to imagine the sound of static on the radio compared to the volume of the music being played. When the signal to noise ratio gets too low on your radio, you probably become annoyed with the static and you either turn off the radio or you change the channel. Dogs do the same thing with us.

Most estimates put the number of words in the English language at about 1 million. The average person uses maybe 5000 words while actually understanding about 50,000. The average dog, on the other hand is said to be able to recognize about 165 words. The more you use words not included in your dog’s vocabulary, the lower your signal to noise ratio will be.

I’m going to list the words that I’m sure my dogs know. I think this could be a good exercise for raising my awareness of how my signal to noise ratio is doing. It would be very interesting to see your list!

Dog’s name
Good dog!
Leave it
Hurry up
Gita (happy bumper)
Load up
The names of at least 5 family members

That’s all I can think of at the moment.
Help me out!
Share your list!



5 thoughts on “SHHhhhhhhh!

  1. I agree. I am trying to expand my dog’s vocabulary and I want to use hand signals as well. Of course I chat a lot with my Chihuahua. My dog knows ‘Go find him’ as I discovered yesterday when I picked my husband up at work. 1st she goes to say hi to everyone, while looking around in case he appears. When I said, Go find him – off she went. I use the ‘Go find’ when we play outside with her ball. I learned from an owner of a Border Collie to use certain phrases to help her find the ball. So she now knows ‘circle’ and when I point to an area she is inclined to go there. I heard that dogs respond really well to pointing and unlike other primates we do too. 🙂 One issue I am having these days is that she rarely brings the ball back, like she used to. She knows ‘bring it’ and responds well inside. Outside she runs to the ball, shows me she’s found it and then wonders off, satisfied she has done her bit – or she will come to me and leave the ball behind. Obviously I need to be trained to train her..

    • So cool that your chihuahua takes hand signals! On the ball dropping: Try running backwards as the dog approaches with the ball. You don’t have to actually move backwards very fast, but kind of jog in place. Often times this will bring the dog all the way back to you. I find it helpful to think of the dog as being attached to me by a big, sloppy, rubber band. If I pull backwards he will (eventually) follow.

  2. My dog knows “Boundaries.” I’m a therapist and I teach boundaries to people who don’t understand the concept of personal space and feeling safe. So when Dakota gets to close to a human or other animal, I say, “Kota, boundaries,” and she backs up until a social cue is given by the other animal or human. It’s actually quite cute! Other than that, she’s useless but a LOT of fun and loved to pieces!

    • So… what kind of dog is Dakota? What an interesting approach you’ve taken to meetings and personal space! How did you teach for the boundary-backup behavior? What are common social cues for dogs?

      • You know, I just got lucky. She’s a minpin. When she was young and rambunctious (she’s now 3 and rambunctious) I think it was the tone I used. She just instantly backed up and sat and I did the “Good girl,” thing. She just kept doing it after that. By social cues, I mean I make her sit until other animas come to her and finish their sniffing. Then she’s allowed to play. If people don’t approach appear interested in her, she just sits and watches a while, then looks at me with great disappointment and lays down.

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