bilingual dogs

This morning at the bus stop, I said to the other families, “You guys need to do something funny. I need a blog topic.”

The other parents there have spent serious time in contemplation, pondering whether they did something awful in a previous life that resulted in my presence at their otherwise-sane bus stop. They sadly conferred on me the knowledge that after the bus came, I would still be in need of a blog topic.

Ah well.

When the bus came, one of the moms handed her dog’s leash to another mom, and the dog was super-excited. He loves attention (who doesn’t?) and this particular mom knows about dogs; she’s able to make this dog feel like the doggie equivalent of a million bucks.  So the dog was SO EXCITED!!!! in his canine fashion, and she was talking to him, and he got MORE EXCITED!!!!1!!! and on and on.

The owner returned, and the other mom said something to the dog in French. What? I don’t know because I’m monolingual. But the dog continued to be SO VERY EXCITED because she SPOKE TO HIM IN FRENCH and ISN’T THAT AWESOME and KEEP PETTING ME (because I can, as it turns out, translate canine-speak into English. Most sentences translate into “Isn’t that awesome?” or “HEY!” For cats, most things translate to “Leave me alone” or “Worship me.”)

The owner asked about speaking to the dog in French, and the other woman said that her mother spoke to her dog (a French poodle) in French.

I said, “Hey, a bilingual dog.”

She said, “The dog seems to understand French.”

Back when my mother got her first cats, within weeks she told me that the cats understood some English. She said, “Watch,” and then in a cute uptick, “Want to EAT?” and cats came to her from the other side of the house.

I walked across the kitchen and used the same uptick: “TupperWARE?”  And the cats came to me. So much for English.

Stormy, on the other hand, used to glare at me while I read The Cat In The Hat Comes Back, and whenever we got to the point where the cat was eating a cake in the tub, she’d meow at me repeatedly. So I don’t think it’s impossible that animals can associate certain words with certain concepts. “Eat,” “vet,” “come here,” and so on are pretty understandable. “Want to go for a walk?” is comprehensible when accompanied by someone holding a leash and putting on her jacket.

The one mom said, “My mother will tell the dog, ‘Pierre, ne garde la maison!’ and the dog will sit up at attention.”

The dad at the bus stop turned to me with, “You have your blog post.”

Et donc je ne. Merci.


  1. cricketB

    Bilingual Mouse:

    1. philangelus

      I love it! So should I learn to speak Dog too? (I already speak Doggerel.)

  2. MysteryNurse

    Maybe the person who told me this was pulling my leg, but I heard that in France, it’s common to teach dogs commands in German instead of French, because it’s easier for dogs to understand than French is. Something about the words being shorter and more consonant-heavy.

    1. philangelus

      That makes a lot of sense. There’s at least one regular reader of this blog who speaks German, and I hope he weighs in.

  3. Nina

    The mechanic at my parents’ Benz dealership just north of Atlanta had two Rottweilers named “Mercedes” and “Benz”. The dogs did not speak any English. They spoke German. The reasoning was that if someone broke into the car lot and tried to talk them down in English, it would be a lost cause. But talk to them in German? Nice doggies. Please don’t eat me doggies. Those dogs scared the bejeebers outta me.

    1. philangelus

      I have to say, I like that philosophy. What’s the good of having a “junkyard dog” if they’re not going to gnaw on the car thieves when they come?

  4. cricketB

    I had a friend who worked with guard dogs. They were often trained in German so they wouldn’t respond to English commands. It’s also tradition.

    The really good dogs, though, will only accept commands from their handler. They won’t even growl without a command.

  5. whiskers09092006

    This is the sweetest, funniest, most adorable thing I’ve heard all day. Thank you!

  6. Mary333

    When I was a child I had a poodle who understood French. He was very smart and even used to get embarrassed if his fur was cut too short. My brother would laugh at him and he would hide behind a chair until we told him how handsome he looked 🙂

    And, recently, I had a Pekingese who could say Mama and I love you!

    Can you tell I’m a dog person?

  7. Ken Rolph

    Inspector Rex can speak both German (Austrian version) and Italian.

  8. diinzumo

    I’ll have to try that tupperware trick to discern whether mine really understand, “Feed the cats,” “Time for medicine,” and, “No cats on the table.”

  9. Jason Block

    Ok try this. Candy(the almost 19 yr old white half-siamese cat who owns my girlfriend Sharron and her roommate Ivy) has learned a new trick in her old age. She speaks dog. She barks. 🙂 No joke. When Sharron or anyone else holds her too long, she will growl in disgust and go woof. So she is a bilingual cat. 🙂

    1. Nina

      You win!