Lost in translation

I have lived in a number of houses with my bipeds and I’ve stayed with them in quite a few more on holiday. This meant that this time when we moved I knew that the rules stay the same and they’ll use the same old words like “kitchen”, “upstairs” and “garden” to mean completely different places from before. They may have a similar function to the places that were previously called those names, but it seems lazy and quite confusing to use the same words again!

I have noticed that humans think they are very clever at communication – yet they expect animals to learn to understand what they say. We try to understand you and interpret what you say, but I’ll start with a simple example to show you why things sometimes get confusing.

“Sit” is generally the first command that a puppy learns. The usual method is to move a treat above a puppy’s head so that the puppy naturally lowers his haunches to make it easier to raise his head to get the treat. Then the word “sit” is repeated with this action. The biped then usually thinks that the puppy understands that “sit” means the puppy should get into a sitting position, regardless of the location or circumstances.

Sitting pretty

Sitting pretty

Attribution: By Tim Dobbelaere from Ieper, Belgium (Man’s best friend) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The puppy, however, probably thinks that “sit” means something like “you are incredibly cute, we are in a safe place, I’m in a good mood, touch the floor with your tail while I give you a treat”. This will often cause confusion if the puppy is lying down and is asked to sit. The puppy doesn’t know what to do – his tail is already on the floor. The biped often does not understand why the puppy is confused – it seems so straightforward to the biped that the puppy should raise his front end.

We have one command that bipeds consider basic and already it means two different things – lower your haunches, or raise your front end – depending on the circumstances. And that’s before the puppy has even left the house! Once we venture out in the world, communication becomes even more complicated. How is a puppy to know that now “sit” means “however excited you are, stop moving around sniffing that wonderful smell you’ve discovered and bend your back legs”?

Sometimes it can mean “stop walking, lower your haunches and wait quietly while I speak to another biped”, or “stop walking, park your bottom on the pavement and wait until I decide to cross the road”. There are almost endless variations. I thought I had discovered them all, when I discovered that it can also mean “stop following those goats and put your bottom on the ground and wait for me to catch up with you”.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that lives with humans who has noticed that they don’t always communicate effectively. Do your bipeds give a command that can mean different things?

See you next Wednesday!

78 thoughts on “Lost in translation

  1. Boy do we agree with this post. Bipeds have trouble understanding each other so how do they expect us to do better than that? But, yeah, give a treat… we’ll do everything we know all at once till it lands in our mouths, BOL. M & B

  2. Very good points there Clowie!! I do recall a Bearded Collie I was walking one day, having spent time training. It was important for her to learn that “Sit” applied in a variety of outdoor situations as well as in more controlled environments with few distractions. I do not recall the reason for my irritated muttering of the very naughty word “S*#!T” (yes I know… 😉 ) but I was somewhat taken aback to suddenly find no dog at my side and a taut leash in my hand…yes! My well-trained and anxious to please K9 pal had understood my naughty word as “SIT!” and was sitting beautifully some distance behind me by then – a lovely “Sit-Stay” actually! Being a very submissive dog she was waiting very patiently for permission to continue moving!! What could I do?!! Had to call her up and give her a big hug! Another communication issue I’ve discovered recently is when a dog is trained to commands in a different language…as one Polish man once said to me re his GSD “My dog doesn’t speak English!!” Use the English version of the command like SIT and they have no idea what you’re talking about! I am now learning Russian and Polish dog commands…and currently, Polish in general. There is an interesting opening for starting up training classes for dogs with owners who speak these languages and who’s dogs do not understand English commands. There are currently no classes available for these dogs and their owners and they badly need them! It’s so easy to forget how difficult it is to communicate properly with dogs so they can understand 🙂

    • Ha ha, I can see how the Bearded Collie thought you said “sit”! I will react to words in a normal conversation. The first things people usually learn in a foreign language are how to get something to eat and drink, but you’ll be able to chat with the dogs – it’s good to see someone with the right priorities! It would be good fun to run a class going through the basic commands for dogs and people that don’t know the English words.

  3. Good point, Clowie! Perhaps we bipeds need to consider how we are communicating. If it were Heather and Mr. K’s decision, they’d “sit” all day long and let us communicate through treat giving! Much love, The Scottie Mom.

    • I think it’s good for bipeds to think about it from the dog’s point of view. Treats and hugs are great ways of communicating!

  4. Mom says a lot of crazy, confusing things, but I can say with certainty that NOTHING she says ever means, “Stop following the goats.” You are brilliant and also lucky to be able to follow goats. ….even if just for a little while.

    Love and licks,

    • I think they all say lots of confusing things, Cupcake! I think goats are very interesting – I’m sure they were going to have lots of fun.

  5. I’m with you, Clowie. While I haven’t moved and experienced all these new places with the same names, Mom does say a lot of blah, blah, blah. I think she’s talking but not my language!!

  6. We have our biped very well trained although we allow her the illusion that she is in charge! So far it has worked out to our advantage.

  7. Yes Clowie. In fact – this was precisely the reason I had to learn a new command for ‘leave it.’ It was so that when I first learned leave it, it meant leave it alone. And if it was a food item that dropped or something I might still get it afterwards during training. So it was not a permanent ‘leave it’ at times. SOmetimes it was a leave it – forever and ever – and other times it meant that it was a leave it for now, I will give it to you when I say you can have it – or more like a wait. So. This meant that when we were in situations where things were on the floor outdoors and I heard leave it, I had this momentary expectation of a ‘wait.’ But momma wanted me to learn to leave it forever because at times I was a piggy and could not ‘wait.’ SOooo a trainer told us that I had to learn a brand new command. “Not Yours” turned into that new command. Not yours meant it was not mine, would never be mine, don’t even look at it. And so, during training, the minute my eyes turned towards that wanted treat on the ground, momma would say ‘not yours’ and pivot in the opposite direction to throw my site away from the wanted item. “Not Yours” meant that forever and ever I would never get that item or that it was not to be looked at. So after learning Leave it – which had the possibility of being mine later and Not yours – I fully understand that I am to ‘turn away’ the minute ‘Not Yours’ is spoken. This is especially effective in hospital situations or outdoors when people throw things on the ground which can be ingested and dangerous. Confusion is gone – thank goodness!.

    • Yes, that’s a perfect example of the confusion there can be. That was a great solution to the difficulty. It needed the bipeds to think about it from your point of view to make things perfectly clear.

  8. Clowie, I am a married biped (i would explain married but we don’t have enough space or time), and she has commands and expectations for me, similar to those your biped has for you. And just like you rarely does the command mean the exact same thing. So after 37 years, I still stratch my ear and wonder what I am suppose todo. Take care and good luck. Biped Bill

    • I’ve often heard one or other of my bipeds say, “but that isn’t what you said!” I think bipeds are very confusing creatures!

  9. You’re so right, Clowie! For a while, my dogs assumed that so long as their tail was on the floor, they were sitting. I had to teach them that sit and down were two different things. They get it now. Stay is another one that’s confusing. Pierson thinks if he but is still on the floor when he scoots forward that he’s still staying. And now I’m trying to differentiate between stay and don’t move. Yep, I think the communication problem is with the bipeds, not the doggies.

    • Ha ha, I have also been known to shuffle around while sitting! My bipeds have created new versions of a couple of commands for the same sort of reason as you.

  10. I agree with you , this i so right 🙂

  11. Brilliant post Clowie!! No joke. You’ve taken the simplest of life’s most crazed complicated act and finally shown light about it. I would imagine poor doggies have spent centuries praying for a translator or some Jeanie to appear & grant them the power of speech & freedom from the silly acts & hoops we make them jump through in order to eat. Coarse thanks be to history, we can look back and see what happens when those without voice finally find theirs. Normally, they don’t come out whispering. They come out shouting…or in this case, barking!! And with good reason. I’d be willing to bet that they would revolt & start an uprising where they would protest against us bipeds who have been confusing & tormenting them all the while, punishing them for our silly rituals! Lol. In the end, I wonder whose nose it would be being rubbed in the S***~ 😀 Fantastic post~

    • Thank you very much. I think the world would be a better place if more humans could see things from the point of view of others. I am pleased that more humans are using treats and positive reinforcement to train animals now. I hope that the harsher methods will disappear soon.

  12. If my human tells me to sit and she has a treat, then I will sit but if she doesn’t have a treat, I only sit if I want to! Happy New Year Clowie!!!!

  13. We trained our kitty one word at a time.

  14. Some of my dogs will go through every trick they know all back to back just to get a treat!

    • Yes, I have seen that happen, it can be amusing! It would have to be a very special treat indeed for me to work that hard for it – I prefer to sit and wait to see what they want me to do.

  15. This is quite interesting information you got here Clowie.
    Unfortunately I never had a dog – even though I would have loved to have one. But I can try this with my friends puppy – and give clear orders. Thanks for sharing!

  16. That’s an interesting perspective from your doggie point of view Clowie. I’m sure we confused Buddy sometimes. We didn’t get to bring him home as a puppy so his first family may have had different ways. I was lucky to adopt Jasper, my other dog as a puppy and he was darn smart. When we walked down the country road to get the mail, if I wanted him to stop and sit beside me, I said “Wait”…then “Car”. when it went by, he’d look at me, then I’d say, “good-boy…ok” I’d scratch his head or ear and off we’d go.

    • I like the image I have of you strolling along the road with Jasper. It sounds as though you were really in tune with each other.
      I’m sure Buddy was pleased to be with you, even if you did confuse him at first!

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