6 min read


Is Your Dog Bilingual?



6 min read


Is Your Dog Bilingual?


Ever wondered how much a dog knows and senses about the world around them? You might be surprised to learn that dogs are complex creatures that see, hear, feel and smell in their own extraordinary ways.

They also relate perfectly well to people speaking various languages. How they do this is by picking up on the sound of words rather than the spoken word itself and how it relates to the task at hand. It’s fascinating to learn your cute little Dachshund or macho Rottweiler may be smarter than you'd think. 

Yes, it’s possible to teach your doggie-mate to sit and stay in different languages. It’s all in the way you present the command!


Signs Your Dog Can Sense Different Languages

Like humans, our canine pals talk to us and each other in a visual language of their own. When you engage in a training session with your pup, watch for facial signs to tell you how your dog is interpreting the request. 

You might see a wrinkle suddenly develop on their forehead before they have a Eureka moment and figure out what their human wants, or their eyes will get brighter and larger. Other tell-tale signs your dog is trying to understand are the tilting of his head to one side - and the jury is still out as theories come thick and fast as to why your dog does this. It looks so sweet but it is thought maybe it’s easier for a dog to take in the whole of their pet parent’s, human face at this angle. 

Some dogs will make a small whining noise and you may hear a gentle, wolf howl when a fur-baby is trying to decipher human words. Like people, our dogs express their thoughts with body language and it can be different from one canine to the next. Imagine your Chihuahua being asked to roll-over in Spanish (dese la Vuelta) when all little Chico has ever known were commands in English. 

His body gestures - including wagging his tail - will tell the story of uncertainty as he sees the same visual hand gesture for “roll over” coming at him in Spanish.

Body Language

Here are some signs that your pooch is definitely trying to understand your command:

  • Barking
  • Head Tilting
  • Howling
  • Wag Tail
  • Ears Drop

Other Signs

Some other signs that signal your doggo is trying to figure out your foreign training include:

  • Crouching Down
  • Standing On Tiptoes

History of Dogs Sensing Worldly Languages


It is thought that dogs became household pets some 20, 000-40,000 years ago but it's still a  mystery as to how they transformed into the cuddly, little canines that sleep on our beds. Similar research reveals domesticated dogs probably have their early origins in East Asia, where humans inhabited areas occupied by wolves and slowly depleted their food reserves. 

Wolves became reliant on human scraps to survive and eventually a bond was formed that led to the evolution of the household dog as a family pet. If you think that man’s best friend has evolved in many different nations that speak a unique dialect, it’s fair to say dogs are pretty dapper at picking up human words - no matter what language is being spoken! 

It is thought the first language ever created was in Africa around 100,000 years ago as a means of communication and survival. Times were tough back then, as stone-age humans hunted for food and were forced to protect their communities from wild predators. Dogs may not be able to speak in the way people do, but their brains are wired in similar ways.

A wonderful analogy of dogs cracking the language code is in New Jersey where a criminal on the run was taken down by a courageous K9, who bit the suspect on his leg. What’s different about this true tale recorded by “Le High Valley Live,” is the dog was not commanded in English-  but in Czech, as he had been trained by a handler in the Slavic language. It really was a great idea, when you think a “bad guy” might use a police dog handlers command to unsettle or confuse the dog. 

The belief backed up by people curious about how dogs can be bilingual or even multilingual is an ongoing pursuit. Many trainers are adamant a dog can live in a home with a people who speak various languages and understand their requests.

The Science Of Dogs Understanding Human Languages


If you’re looking for scientific proof that your pet poodle can sit when asked in German or English, you might be interested to hear what the top guns in the Science world are saying. 

At a university in Budapest, 13 dogs were tested as part of a study to see how their brains understood language. The outcome was enlightening and offered evidence that our furry, family friends are similar to us in how we comprehend dialect. 

Brain scanners were used while dogs listened to recordings of their pet parent’s voice. it was discovered that canines assessed the given information in the left hemisphere of their brain, just like humans. This exciting revelation was recorded by “Science Mag.”

Well there it is!

 Dogs and humans have more in common than first thought. Other studies recorded by “Pet Ful,” show a dog can learn up to 165 words with top dogs showing more intellect getting the paw-handle on up to 250 words! For dog lovers the world over, this may come as no surprise, having the inside scoop on their bone-loving pals who are pretty clever as well as cute. 

With that said, it's clear, if you can teach people different languages then the same applies to dogs. Other animal comrades with similar brain power include chimpanzees, dolphins, your classic farm pig, parrots (and they can actually talk), squirrels and cows. Worldly scientists are super-excited at the thought of one day being able to know exactly how animals communicate!

Some have already gotten very close, with a dedicated professor of biology at the University of Northern Arizona spending years working with prairie dogs. He discovered a verbal code unique to these prairie scavengers as they raise the alarm when predators are present to a form of social chatter amongst their family groups.  This amazing story was recorded by The New York Times Magazine.

Tips For Dogs Being Trained in Different Languages


The question on many a dog owner's lips might now be, “How do I train my dog to fetch in English and Portuguese?” Planet Earth is a myriad of dog trainers with personalized programs to teach Buddy the Bichon, how to fetch that ball in English and French. 

One thing in common is the use of positive re-enforcement in the way of treats or praise to achieve the goal. When it comes to saying sit in English and Italian the sound of your voice plays a special part. Say sit or “sederisi”, with the same tone and a hand movement that applies to both words. 

It may be as simple as pointing a finger in a non-confrontational way - so your paw-mazing fur-baby starts to catch on. You can use clickers and food treats; it’s entirely up to you! Some dogs pick up very quickly, enjoying the chance to please their guardian.

 One renowned trainer uses simple methods to teach commands such as sit. Take a yummy treat and let your pet pooch have a sniff. Then move your hand and treat up above their head as they lower their body in a sitting position. Once they are in the right position say “Sit” then give them the treat, offering praise. 

This process can be re-enacted over and over while you teach your loyal Collie to sit in another language. This is the basics - and once learned, you can move onto the same command in German, if you wish. Now a dog can’t understand the word “sitzen” so this is where the fun begins. Say sit then follow with the German version, using repetition as your guide. 

Dogs are clever creatures so it won’t be long before Rosie, your adorable Yorkie is sitting to the sound of two different commands. Now it’s time to honor your paw-lingual pooch with their favorite treat and plenty of doggie affection! Every dog has its training chemistry, so patience is always the key. Next time friends stop by, you can impress them with displays of your dog rolling over in French!




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Written by a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 01/25/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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