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)], 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!


  1. Moses and Alma are pretty good at putting bums on the ground upon a “sit”, but both take advantage of a particular uncommunicated grey area: pivoting. Good thing we’re not in rally-o!

  2. I will do anything for a treat Clowie, sit, speak, shake hands, kiss, roll over you name it. Mommy says I am naughty now and have to get back into training, as I have selective hearing Bawahwahhwhahhaa. I will sit for a second, no treat and I’m off BOL xxxxooxxxx

    Mollie and Alfie

  3. I don’t know how we put up with them – you make a very good point!

  4. I learnt to sit by hand sign, but only for treats. It was really the first command, except “nooooo!!!”, “oh my god” and “give my my shoes back”.

  5. We know what is being asked but sometimes selective hearing is the order of the day. You should hear what some of my names are like GET OFF THE FLOWER BED. LOL. Have a wonderful Wednesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  6. I do a good job at sitting. I have to sit when we come to a door before mom opens it. I have to sit when mom stops walking always to be on her left. I have a job to do I am a therapy dog and this is my job. Mom has been working with me in the house this winter off the lead to keep me in practice walking on her left and sitting when she stops. It keeps me on my toes.

  7. You are so very right! Poor Bailie is in the middle of obedience school and she says it is all super confusing. Katie and I are like you and usually know what is meant, but it is hard for a new pup for sure! PS: better leave the goats alone πŸ˜‰

    • I expect Bailie finds it easier when you and Katie are there and she can follow your lead, rather than having to work it out for herself. They tell me goats can be feisty, but I only wanted to join in the fun!

  8. We’ve been trying to train our bipeds for years…this is maybe why we’re not successful.
    The REAL Maple Syrup Mob xxxxx

  9. That reminds me of the time Mity got onto the couch without permission. He was told down, and he did, he lay down. Well we couldn’t tell him off after that, he got a treat and spent the rest of the night on his sofa and we learnt that he gets ‘off’

  10. I have only had experience with kitties except for a couple of dogs when I was little. Cats can learn to sit too. When they feel like it… πŸ™‚

  11. The dogs look at me pityingly when I fail to understand their signals…..then repeat them with vigour…

  12. OMD! I know exactly what you mean!! Like our human makes us look into her eyes for a second before she gives up the treat! Why? I have no idea…..she says “look” and we have to connect with her eyes for a second…..pointless if you ask me!
    ((Husky hugz))
    “Love is being owned by a husky”

  13. Clowie! Yous is so furry smart!! Mes never considered that when me watched Mommy and Daddy trying to teach my hairy slobbery sister Cinnamon to sit!

  14. Ah poor humans. They do mean well, really. Well at least we have one training command down pat at our house. “Excuse me” lets Gracie know she’s to give up her spot on the sofa for us. She’s really a sweet girl with this one.

  15. I am sure it is really hard for the dog to figure out all the different times that is to sit or do anything else. Some dogs do understand more than other dogs. I believe it just takes lots of patience until the dog understands. Take care.

  16. Hahaha!! β€œstop following those goats and put your bottom on the ground and wait for me to catch up with you” – our Biped laughed so hard we got spooked πŸ˜‰ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  17. My kids would sympathize with you on this matter. Apparently I have this same sort of communicaiton problem.

  18. Oh my parents always mean the same thing when they tell me something BUT I always manage to at least ACT like they’ve confused me…..hahaha…..I like to keep them on their toes!!

    Hugs, Sammy

  19. Oh, wow, I never thought about how confusing such a “simple” direction could be, Clowie! No wonder we bipeds have such a difficult time communicating with each other!

  20. Jack & Maggie so agree with you…but we’ll do most anything as long as mom is dispensing treats!

  21. 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

  22. 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… πŸ˜‰ ) 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 πŸ™‚

    • 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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,

  25. 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!!

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