Unintentional Dog Commands

With most foster dogs, training really means acclimating them to living in a house, housebreaking, teaching them to go up stairs. It’s really just about getting them to understand the basics — anything else is up to the adopters, or at least that’s how I viewed it.

With my own dogs, I adopted a “cobblers’ children go barefoot” approach, where we housebroke them, made sure they weren’t destructive, and got them to behave adequately on a leash. Our big priority was having them get along with people and each other. We didn’t do much more, largely because our dogs were blockhead breeds who viewed obedience as optional.

This was especially true with our Chow. He learned commands at training class and proceeded to ignore them for the rest of our time together. I’d read that Border Collies could learn up to 250 words/commands. I figured Chowder had a 5-command capacity, optimistically.

Unfortunately, we squandered our commands. The first one came when I was doing an imitation of Gandalf in the Fellowship of the Ring. When I raised my arms over my head and said “Flame of Udun!” Chowder did an elaborate play bow. I tried it again over the next few days, and sure enough, Chowder did it regularly.  So that was one down.

The other commands were a bit more practical: “Who wants a treat?” (Come) “Who wants to go outside?” and “Non essere baby.” (Quasi-Italian for “Stop acting like a brat around other dogs.”) All very valid commands. I wish one of them hadn’t been in Italian, but at least it worked.Chowder was predictably unpredictable, and he responded to the Italian. It was too bad — I had high hopes for “This behavior demeans us both,” a line cribbed from The Simpsons.

Then my husband decided he had to teach Chowder a trick himself, which is why Chowder learned the command “New York Public Library,” which consisted of Chowder doing a down so that he looked like one of the lions outside the New York Public Library. I was not pleased, to say the least. Our dog knew five commands, three of which would be incomprehensible to outsiders. But it was too late, and Chowder was a very affable Chow, so we left him to it.

We also taught our dog Maggie at least one unintentional command. She had a tendency to try to mooch food from me if I ate dinner in front of the TV, so I would push her away and say, “Back off!” It didn’t seem to work very well, and in fact, one day I observed that it was almost as if Maggie tried to get closer every time I said it. Well, folks, there was no “almost” about it. I tested the next day, and when Maggie was across the room, I said sharply, “Back off.” Sure enough, she ran across the room and snuggled herself up to me as closely as possible. What she had gotten was “Back off” meant “Make close physical contact with humans.” We never bothered to unteach her, largely because she was a hound and that means once they learn something involving food or physical contact, it is LEARNED FOREVER.

Have you ever accidentally taught your dog a command? What is it?

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Moretta is a caring nurturer, a member of several 12-step programs, but not a licensed therapist. Her Twitter is

3 thoughts on “Unintentional Dog Commands”

  1. I unintentionally taught my dog that “AHHH” “SHIT” or “NOO” when in the kitchen means, “come and feast on floor food”. Then it expanded. Whenever I exclaim anything, she comes running to see if there are things on the floor for her to lick. I guess I might be clumsy?

  2. Teehee, I love your dog stories.

    Erm, well, we didn’t teach her, but my mother’s and mine’s “Enough, done” mean something different than my father’s. My father will give her one more thing after saying so, so she hangs around instead of immediately leaving like with us.

  3. I inadvertently taught them that “good dog” means that they can go away, especially when they’ve performed a “trick.” So a treat and “good dog” means “good job” and now you can go away. So we are now going through the confusion of: treat –> “good dog, stay” count of four beats then “OK-free dog” and turning my back to let them to let them know they can go. Is it working? Not so much!

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