I’d like to begin this post with an inconvenient truth: there are some people out there who get a little too hung up on dog training commands. To illustrate this, let me share a story with you that always makes me chuckle.
A few years ago I had a client with a Doberman. We were talking about training and commands, and I gave it a “sit” command in English. They said, “Oh no, we’re going to train the dog in German.” I’ve trained hundreds of dogs in German over the years, so I had no problem with that. But when I asked them why they wanted to train in German, they just said “Well, she’s a Doberman.” By their tone of voice I could tell that they were surprised I was even asking. “She’s from Germany originally,” they told me, “which means she’ll understand German commands better naturally.”
Now, I didn’t laugh at these owners there and then; I reserved that for when I got in the car later. But I couldn’t believe that they thought there was something genetic inside their dog that predisposed her to understand “sitz” better than “sit,” or “platz” better than “down.” I’d like to dispel that right now. There’s nothing in your dog’s genetic code that makes it easier for them to understand one language over another. My last dog was trained in Spanish, and I’ve trained dogs in Czech, Russian, French, Greek, Dutch, Portuguese, and several other languages. There isn’t a single language that your dog will pick up faster or easier than another. The commands really don’t matter.
A lot of dog trainers might disagree with me on this, but even in English the commands themselves matter very little. While training, I often see situations where the husband says “sit” and the wife says “sit down,” and they both get upset because they think the command must be consistent every time. Is it easier for your dog if you only use one command? Sure. But dogs are smart, and they can pick up various words for the same command.
Just yesterday, I was telling another dog to sit down in English, and my dog Chip (who was trained to sit with the German word “platz”) sat right down with him. I’ve never told her “down” before, so I thought it was a fluke, but I kept noticing her obeying that command throughout the day. Dogs pick things up through context and body language. I’ve imported plenty of dogs from Europe over the years, and many of those came from the Czech Republic. Czech is not an easy language for Americans to speak, so I’ve switched almost all of those dogs over to German or English. They can manage that in days!
It’s nice for your commands to be the same for the whole family and easy for the dog to understand. But don’t be ritualistic about it. Don’t forbid yourself from using “come on” when you trained your dog to answer to “come,” or “lie down” when you trained for “down.” It doesn’t help to be rigid and dogmatic, because your dog is smart. He’ll be able to understand other words and contexts. For instance, many dogs understand that when their owner uses “down” he’s very serious, but when he uses “go lie down” he’s more casual.
So don’t get bogged down in the specifics, because I promise you’ll become annoyed with yourself in the end!