Your Dogs Homophone Hurdles

Mar 03, 2023

Your Dogs Homophone Hurdles

I was speaking with a client last night about a dog’s perception of similar sounding words and thought I’d write a wee bit about it. The pic attached demonstrates the confusion some words can have, if you have a friend with a Scottish accent ask them to say the names “Carl” and “Carol” and try to work out which is which.

When we’re teaching commands or cues, we want to make it easy for our dogs to understand.

Their ability to interpret words that sound similar depends on their individual level of training and familiarity with those words, as well as their natural ability to distinguish between sounds.

Dogs rely heavily on their sense of hearing to understand and interpret the world around them, and they are particularly attuned to the nuances of human speech.

Just like us they hear the inflection in our tone, the ‘word boundaries’ between our words signalled by various phonetic cues, such as pauses, changes in pitch, or changes in duration. For example, they can distinguish between when we’re communicating and when we’re using our nonsense doggy lovey dovey whos my wee snookums mwah mwah mwah excitable made-up noises (I know you do it, mostly when no one else is looking, lol).

For example, a well-trained dog that has been taught to respond to specific verbal cues may be better able to distinguish between similar-sounding words, such as "sit" and "stay." However, a less-trained, or less-experienced dog may struggle to differentiate between these words, particularly if they haven’t trained with these words consistently.

In general, dogs are better able to distinguish between words that have different sounds or intonations, such as "sit" and "come," than words that sound more similar, such as "sit" and "set". 

They may also rely on body language or the tone of their owner's voice, to help them understand the intended meaning of a particular word or phrase.

A dog's ability to interpret words that sound similar will depend on a variety of factors, including their individual training, experience, and natural abilities.

It’s also important to note that if you teach a specific verbal cue to mean something specific then it’s important to use it for that purpose. 

For example, if I taught my Freya to come to the word “come” then it would be better to use ‘Come’ rather than ‘Freya’, ‘Freya’, ‘Freya’, ‘Freya’! I often use the analogy that if someone asked me to make them a coffee they’d say ‘Hi Craig, could you make me a coffee’, rather than ‘Craig!’, ‘Craig!’, ‘Craig!’, ‘Craig!’.

You’ve taken the responsible step to teach your dog verbal or nonverbal cues.  Choose them carefully, use them clearly and consistently and cherish that feeling you get when they understand exactly what you’re asking (and they do it).