I think that starting with full disclosure is a really important thing for this blog. Let me be clear; I don’t speak Turkish. I have never taken a class in the Turkish language, and I have very few friends who come from Turkey. Actually, I currently have no friends who come from Turkey. If you were to ask me to pass the salt in Turkish, I would not have a clue. If you are really curious about how to say “Please pass the salt” in Turkish, you can listen to that here https://tinyurl.com/yd8wn9nb . Let’s be honest though, no matter how loud, or how slowly, or how clearly you say “Lütfen tuzu geç” to me, I am not likely to know that salt is what you want.
If we were in Turkey, and at dinner, and someone at the table said to me “Lütfen tuzu geç” and pointed at the salt, I would likely guess correctly that salt was what the other person wanted, but I still would not speak Turkish, and if the Turkish speaker asked me the same thing out of context, I would have no idea what they were talking about. I think this is often what dogs go through when we talk to them.
Dogs are amazing at their ability to pick up information. My dogs all know what I mean when I say “Dog in a box” (our cue for getting into their crates), or “hup” (our cue for getting in the car) or “two paws” (our cue for dogs coming onto our laps to cuddle), and I never really trained those things; they learned the cues in context and then over time generalized the behaviours to a bunch of new scenarios. They picked up the lingo so to speak, just as I might if I spent enough time at Turkish dinner tables to hear “Lütfen tuzu geç” often enough that I could pick it out of conversation.
My dogs also know all the regular obedience cues such as sit, down, stay, here, heel, let’s go, over, tunnel and piddle; I taught my dogs those cues very carefully and they have long histories of being rewarded for the correct behaviour when they do as they are asked, and I have carefully taught them what the sound “sit” means so they know what I am talking about.
I see the Turkish language problem occurring when people have incompletely taught a behaviour and they assume that because their dogs understand what to do in one context that the dog will know what to do in every context. Similar to my example of learning to pass the salt when asked at the table and then not recognizing the words when taken out of context, many dogs are simply confused when they are asked to do something that doesn’t fit with their experience.
Perhaps the most common behaviour I see this with is the recall, or come when called behaviour. When you call a dog to come, you likely have an internal picture of what you want. You call out “Fido come” and you want Fido to drop whatever he is doing and come racing towards you. Often when clients ask for help with the recall, they cannot tell me how they taught the dog to come when called in the first place. If the training session was too dim for you to remember how you taught that behaviour, likely it was not a very meaningful experience for your dog either. Think back to teaching your dog to come when called. What steps did you take? Where were you when to taught your dog to do this behaviour? How rewarding was it for your dog to do the behaviour? If you cannot remember, then maybe, you are speaking Turkish to your non Turkish speaking dog!
Another problem that can occur with misunderstood cues is simply that you over structured the learning so that the dog learned the words, but only in the context of what you were doing. So many of my students taught their dogs to stay and then to come out of the stay when called. This is perhaps the most confusing way for a dog to learn the recall, and has nothing to do with leaving the rotting dead fish your dog wants to roll in in order to come racing towards you when you call; this is akin to teaching me to pass the salt by describing the chemical formula by which you would concoct salt in a laboratory. Sodium Cloride is the chemical name for table salt and you can make it very simply by taking Sodium hydroxide and Hydrochloric acid and mixing them together as they do in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erWTsWut7Vc . Knowing how to make table salt in the lab just isn’t useful when you are sitting at dinner and it really doesn’t help you to learn Turkish any faster! Staying is a behaviour that requires the dog to inhibit his desire to move, and the recall is a behaviour that requires the dog activate his body and move towards you; these diametrically opposed behaviours can be very confusing when initially paired together, and just don’t have anything to do with leaving something the dog wants (an activation type activity) and coming towards you (another activation type activity that is the opposite of heading towards what the dog wants!).
When you are teaching your dog behaviours like the recall, it is important to help him out by making it as simple and clear as possible. When teaching my dogs to come when called, I have someone hold my dog and I run away so that the dog wants to come towards me; I reward him for doing the right thing that he would likely have done anyhow. This is much like holding up a shaker of salt and shaking some salt into my hand and offering that to you while saying “Tuz” two or three times. I am making it really easy for you to understand that the word for salt in Turkish is Tuz. Then when you encounter salt elsewhere, you have a chance of recognizing that object as “Tuz”.
When your dog is having trouble understanding what you are asking of him, ask yourself if you have made the meaning clear for your dog, or if you have assumed that he has just picked up the information from conversation. If you are not sure, then go back and explain it again, simply, with rewards for the behaviour you are hoping for. Don’t get louder, or repeat yourself, speak slowly, because it doesn’t matter how slowly or loudly you speak in Turkish, I still won’t understand what you are saying.