Speaking to Dogs So They Don’t Understand You

Honey the Golden Retriever at rest.

Oh no, she’s spelling again. I wonder if I need to get up.

My last dog, Shadow, was great around the house.

As a hound mix, she cared more about her nose than anything else. So we could talk about her right in front of her face and she’d pay no attention to us.

That’s not true with Honey.

She hears everything we say. And she responds.

If we don’t want to disturb her or get her excited, we have to speak in code.

Spelling Around the Dog

Here are just a few of  the words we have to spell or otherwise disguise to keep from getting a reaction from Honey.

Honey becomes H-Boo or lil blond girl

Walk becomes perambulation, constitutional, stroll, or W-A-L-K

Dinner becomes your food toy

Diana (her favorite friend) becomes your favorite friend

Ball becomes orb or sphere

Stick becomes branch

Treat becomes T-R-E-A-T

 Riley (the Golden Retriever two doors down) becomes your boyfriend

Oh, and if I put my hand in my pocket, she instantly sits. Funny how carrying liver treats in your pocket much of the time will do that for a dog.

I’m not sure what’s better: a dog who ignores you or one who hears everything you say. But the dog who hears everything will likely boost your vocabulary.

Gotta go. The canines are ready for their promenade.

What phrases and gestures get your dog excited? Do you use them to stir things up? Or do you spell and use code words too?

Disclosure: While procrastinating in the middle of writing this post, I hopped over to Heart Like a Dog and found my friend Jodi wrote about her dog Sampson’s ability to not only understand words, but syllables. I find it fun that we’re on the same wave length. I hope she does too.

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  1. So funny. Could be quite useful, having a dog sit with a simple gesture of putting a hand in a pocket. I had a dog that could eventually spell walk and car and everything else he thought was wonderful. I love the bright ones though – they definitely keep you on your toes.

  2. Our dogs over the years are all a bit different…gee, just like people! Sally, a chocolate lab sounds like Honey – we would have to change words or spell because she knew too many of them, walk, ride, treat, dinner, etc. Tino, our other dog at the time pretty much just followed her lead if he was around (he spent most of his time out in his backyard sunning himself) – that became even more true when he went blind – he just kind of intuited from her actions what to do. Our dogs now, Slimdoggy Jack & Maggie aren’t into words too much, but they do follow my actions pretty closely, and have built in clocks, so they know when it’s walk time or dinner time and just start milling about nudging me. One thing that is funny – we have a security system on our house and its the kind that give a little chime when one of the doors or windows is opened and tells you which door/window. When the chime goes off for the family room door, Maggie is up and running to that door (the one we usually use to go out) but if I open the front door or the back door, she doesn’t go. How she tells that difference I don’t know – it’s pretty subtle…but she can tell…so funny!

  3. She does find it fun!!

    I hadn’t thought about the other little nuances they react to. For instance if I’m sitting on the couch and get up to go in the bedroom, one of them usually follows me. They know which clothes/shoes/boots I use for hiking and if they see me putting them on, they get excited.

    I can’t believe there are some people who have actually said dogs don’t have a memory. I heard that once a while back and thought to myself, then you’ve never had a dog that has a favorite toy, because my dog can leave a toy and go outside for a few hours and come back in and go straight for that toy!

    Who knows, maybe dogs will actually learn to talk next. 😉

  4. Saying the C-word (cookie) in our house is guaranteed to get you knocked over in a mad dash for the kitchen. For that matter, simply walking in the kitchen will garner you favor with all creatures in this abode. woo woo!

  5. Ready for their promenade LOL that makes us laugh. The peeps thinks by spelling stuff or using other words she will get the better of me. Sadly for her it does not work as I am a dog genius. Have a super Saturday.
    Best wishes Molly

  6. Julie Blackwelder says:

    My registered Shih Tzu, who was actually a Tibetan Terrier (long story), was a wizard at spelling and we had to change words and spellings often. Cat became C-a-t, then Kitty, then k-i-t-t-y, then “furry thing”, finally “one of those you know whats”. She thought they were not allowed to walk on her back deck and got very upset when the strays and the neighbors cats walked across it to get to the big self-feeder by the back door. Car, treat, bed, out, medicine and pills, also went through several transformations.

  7. For the most part, I like it that our dogs read us so well that they know what we’re talking about or planning. The one thing that kills me is the times when we’re going out sans dogs and I am taking the camera with me. Bunny is always sure the camera means she’s included and when she’s not, well, you will feel lower than dog poop on the bottom of a shoe!

  8. I agree that dogs have memory, and would love to see you write about that some time Pam. My former pit-bull mix, Pumpkin was particularly brilliant. We lost track of how many words she knew, but she also had a great memory. She knew each of her toys by name–pull toy, football, furry toy, etc. and DAYS after she had played with one of them, she could find it. If we said, “Where’s your…….(name of toy)…?” She would sit looking at us with her head cocked, then look around, then suddenly make a beeline to whatever room in the house she had left the toy in.

  9. it doesn’t matter either way. You love each one.

  10. The following words mean that I’m going to have three crazy dogs around me…

    Walk, Dog Park, Bye Bye, Outside, Carrots, Treat, Cookie, Kitty, Jaffrey, Cosmo, and Ice cream.

    Yep, we spell things out all the time. They know more words, but these are the words that will make them go from sleeping dogs to crazy, hyper dogs in seconds.

  11. Ha ha! I was just thinking that you and Jodi were on the same page with this post. :-)

  12. We have always spelled out words like W-A-L-K, T-R-E-A-T, and P-A-R-K, but we swear that she learned them too!! Cali has always been such a little smarty pants 😉 Now that she doesn’t hear as well, we miss the days when I used to be able to see her ears perk up when we mentioned the word “dog” or “toy”. They are just too cute!!

  13. Jeffie and Rudy like to go up to the road to get the mail. Now we can no longer even spell m-a-i-l. Nor can we say anything about the r-o-a-d. I swear, they have esp 😀

  14. Dogs are incredible…Cats are too. My cat responds to seeing a suitcase, she knows what that means. If I say ‘brush’, she immediately hops up onto the desk where I brush her. ‘Dinner’ must be universal! Happy Sunday!

  15. Elka understands too much, at times. We haven’t resorted to spelling, though (yet). Typically, phrases that get her going start with “Elka, do you wanna….”, because it finishes with things like “go for a walk”, “go in the car”, “go play out back.” She also gets excited when I ask if she wants to go to bed with my fiance (he frequently is sleeping when I leave for work), but we try to keep her a little more understated then!

    Elka also comes running if I’m doing anything with Tupperware, because frequently I’ll give her the leftover vegetables from dinner.

  16. Daddy used to wind me up about dinner and then got frustrated with me when I got super hyper, so now they keep it calm and and cryptic

  17. They started spelling things like walk, car, food. Then, when I could spell them, they started using variations. When I knew all those, they started using Spanish. I understand about half a dozen variations on going for a walk in both English and Spanish.

  18. Do you find that your language has to undergo constant evolution? Because it seems like every time I come up with new words to outsmart the dogs, they end up catching on and I have to start all over again! For example, Bella seems to have realized that “her” could refer to, well, her. So that doesn’t work for us anymore. We do tend to call the dogs “the beasts” in hopes that they won’t know we’re talking about them and we now refer to meals as “your favorite thing” since Bella realized that “6 o’clock” was code for dinner. I’m sure she’ll catch on to that one too… :)

  19. Just discovered this post, hilarious! Love that ‘walk’ becomes ‘perambulation’ (goodness, you have a big vocabulary). For us, ‘rawhides’ become “R.H.s”, walks become “W.A.L.K”. Food becomes “doof” (although Charlie’s rapidly figuring that one out). We also have to watch our body language. So if Hannah sees me put on shoes, she starts getting really excited for ‘walkies’. Now, she looks at me in anticipation even as early as when I put on socks, or when I go to the drawer to get the socks.