If you are a family raising bilingual children and you own a dog, you might be wondering if your pooch is able to understand more than one language as well. There is scientific evidence that dogs can learn to understand many different words – a border collie called Chaser, featured in a Scientific American article, learned over 1000 – so there is no reason to believe that your pet would not be able to learn words from more than one language.
So, how would you go about training a dog in two different languages? Here are a few points to remember:
1. Intonation is important
Although studies have shown that dogs can understand and process words separate from their intonation, just like humans do, tone of voice is still very important in conveying meaning. If a dog is praised with an excited, happy voice, the reward centre of their brain will be activated. If the same words are used with a flat, emotion-less tone, this will not happen. When using two different languages, using intonation becomes even more important in helping your pooch to understand what you are trying to say.
2. Hand gestures are helpful
Using the same hand gestures for commands in both languages will help your dog to understand that different words can mean the same thing. You may find that the gestures do more to tell the dog what you want it to do than anything that is coming out of your mouth, and this can be a good thing – especially in a family where multiple languages are spoken.
3. Practice the minority language with the dog
Having a dog is a great way to get your kids to practice the minority language. Sure, your pooch will never be able to answer back, but encouraging your children to speak to your dog in the minority language will give them a little extra practice beyond just talking to you and family members on Skype.
In a bilingual family, dealing with more than one language is a way of life: even for the pets. As an added bonus, you can impress your dinner guests with your amazing bilingual dog!
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