Doggie Diction

Posted on 01/24/09 12 Comments

 I talk to me dogs. I don’t mean I talk to my dogs the way normal people do, saying things like — ”yeah boy, get the stick”. I mean I talk to them like I expect, at any moment, they are about to answer back. I don’t talk this way all the time, but for important things I do. Look, the entire world knows that dogs can’t understand conversations and only know the cues we teach them or learn from the tone of voice that we use with them right? Of course I am right. But what if, even it is just one chance in a trillion, that everyone is wrong. What if all along they could understand every word that came out of our mouths? Wouldn’t you feel silly in the end if you knew you could have just said “Look, it is numbers 1 through 20, follow my lead, hit all the yellow zones and enter the poles with the first one on your left!”  All that training and frustration for nothing! Okay maybe not, but I do talk to my dogs anyway. Every time I pack my suitcase to go to teach a seminar somewhere I, tell all the dogs that are not coming with me how many nights I would be gone. I would say something like  “okay, this trip will be just three sleeps then da mama will be back home.”  John thinks I am certifiable, but he loves me anyway.

When I train my dogs I talk to them in a different way. I have so much fun and so do the dogs. I think if you could rank the amount of enjoyment you got out of a training session from 1 -10 and based it on how many times you were happy or proud and how many times your dog appeared to be happy or proud (if that is possible) and you set goals for your training not so much upon “teaching a dogwalk” but rather, hitting an 8 or higher on the quality-of-fun-for-training scale, you possibly would end up with the best trained dog you have ever owned. I think that last sentence could very well be the longest sentence I have ever written in a blog. Heck, it may be up there for the longest one ever used in any blog in the history of the world!  Anyway, there are those that train here at Say Yes that end up picking up some of our expressions and the intonations in which we speak to our dogs. Things like “good girlie, whirlie” or “to da mama” or “smack da baby”  amoungst many weird others.  If you have seen my DVD’s you know what I am talking about. It is contagious, we have so much fun with our dogs, so it is enviable that others will pick up on the way we play and the things that come out of our mouths. It is a crack up.

When I really want to get one of my dogs going, (which I will admit gets John going in a different direction if I do this in the house) I tell one of my dogs,

The dawning of Encore's jolly ball obsession at 7 week of age.
The dawning of Encore's jolly ball obsession at 7 week of age.

“co’mere, mama gonna talk diry to you.”  So lets say it is Encore, I get her close to me then I whisper things like: “wally” which is dog-talk for her jolly-ball–in Encore’s opinion the most amazing toy on the planet. Or I may tell her “buffy”  which is dog-talk for her ball-with-feet--2nd place to the wally. Or “frisser” which of course refers to her frisbee– which is very distant, a long distance away  from having the value of either the buffy or the wally. The expression “go-for-a _____”  is another guaranteed over-the-top-reaction from the dog. You can fill in the blank here, it could be: “swim” or “run” or “walk” it really doesn’t matter for the  “go-for-a” is all the dog ever needs to hear to know ‘she wants in!’ “Swimming” is a great one to get the head tilt thing working and “weavers” is easily her favourite agility obstacle “the daddy”   is her favourite person on the planet (next to me, I would like to think). All this is like doggie telephone porn to them. It gets the dog so worked up, really I only do it like once a year but it makes me laugh so much.

I think talking dirty to your dogs is fun, but make sure you don’t abuse the privilege or you will lose the impact. If you have words you know will crank your dog up you can then use them in your training to produce a ton of drive when you need it.  I have a game called the “smoke ya” game that is described in Shaping Success. Often, before I start this game of chase I will take a long deep inhalation.  That intake of breath soon becomes a cue to my dogs that something very fast and very fun is about to start. Once you have these triggers you can use them for key moments. For example I will use one for DeCaff at the start line to get more drive in an important class. I will avoid them with dogs like Encore or Buzzy who tend to get “too over-the-top”  Try it with your own dog. You will need at least a week or two of “planting” the seed of anticipation before you can uncork it to get the dog jazzed up. But it really does work!

Today I am grateful for a much needed Saturday off, giving me a chance to get caught up on my life at home!


  1. Gail says:
    Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 2:22pm

    Hi Susan,

    I’m so glad that you wrote about this! I have to admit, I talk to my dogs daily! I find that even though they may not understand a word that I say, they love the attention & the interaction.

    Duncan, my Dal-x, is a very verbal dog. Every day when I come home from work, he spends the first 20 minutes or so barking at me. He doesn’t want anything, isn’t alert barking, just barking. I believe that he’s telling me all about his day, who drove by, what time the mailman came by, that his brother stole his toy, that his other brother was up on the couch, etc. I think he’s also cussing me out a bit for leaving every morning, too.

    We go through this ritual every day & I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ll truly miss it when I won’t have my Dunkie to talk to me anymore!

    Gail & the ‘boys’
    Duncan, Teddy, Muggy & Speedy
    (from Michigan)


  2. carlos says:
    Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 3:28pm

    Good night Susan, excellent article clarify that I live in Brazil and much admire your work with dogs.
    Do you have experience with clicker training with breeds of custody? What were the results.Greetings Brazillian


  3. Sharon says:
    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 11:41pm

    You are soooo right about contagion of words you words. I watched a snipet of your One Jump DVD recently and two weeks later found myself telling one of the female pups what a good gurl she was with such a prenounced SG drawl (it’s not right just to call it an american accent!). It caught me completely by surprise as my dogs are both boys. I looked up to find the whole (very Aussie) class staring at me like I was very weird! The pup however loved it so much I haven’t been able to shake it since!!!! :>


  4. Tracy says:
    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 4:15pm

    Susan, I am disappointed – how could you neglect to mention the 18,542 nicknames that each of us have for our dogs? Feature has about 25,000 nicknames… Feachy, Peachy, Cha Cha, and I think I’ve even heard Peach-inator in there too. Lynda’s Sheltie is simply known as “Lish” and Export has come to also answer to “Louis” (long story…)
    My puppy already has so many nicknames (MayMay, Mater, MaterTotter, Tater, TaTrix, MaterPoTater, PoPo, Trixiffer) and even some songs (remind me to sing the MaterPo song sometime). That is something that is part of our Say Yes Doggie Diction, just as much as “girlie whirly birlie”.
    PS – don’t worry, the puppy has a great recall to her actual name 😉


  5. Julie Weir says:
    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 2:30pm

    Yes playing with your dog is the very best and I thank you for reminding us of that over and over again through your words and actions.
    I spent this last summer not doing much agility training with my older whippet and just going out and playing. I have a couple of games we play – throw the chess e and I am gonna get you. I spend time revving him up with my voice and quick back and forth actions and then the game begins. Both games are geared to having him race at full speed away from me and toward me. Running all out is his biggest reward. After the summer we got back to doing more agility and boy did we have better faster runs. Now I concentrate on play and having fun no matter what we are doing and it is paying off big time.


  6. lynne bruaker says:
    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 9:24am

    If you could make royalties on every word or phrase that we take home from your camps or from the DVD’s, you would be very wealthy! :-)))


  7. Sally says:
    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 2:46am

    ROFL hmmm I have the stealing your terms bit – I think the only reason my girls release word is what it is is because I watched the One Jump dvd a few too many times.


  8. Mary says:
    Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 8:44pm

    I laughed when reading this post; because only through watching your DVD’s (and reading your books), while I have never been to a seminar with you (though if I can muster the change I may soon come visit!). I have begun borrowing some of your terms! (“weavers”, “smack the baby”, rrrrreeeeaaddddyy”, etc.)

    I have also heard some of the people I have trained with doing the same thing….when this happens I think in the back of my mind….hmmm they have also been paying attention to Susan 🙂

    Thanks for the positive and fun training you role model for us, it affects many, which is a great and important achievement in itself.


  9. Trudie says:
    Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 3:32pm

    What a delightful post!

    No one else in the world uses certain language with your dog, it’s the two of youse own special language. (As in “how are youse?”)

    I’m the only English speaker at my club, I can say “smart do-ggie!!” and “you’re a smarty cat!” and, gotta love it: “teeter !” and truly it’s just between us. (need I add, I also say “Yes!”)
    We have an equivalent of Greg Derrett’s “Where are the cats?” I can vouch for it, it’s a powerful rever upper.

    But wait! My dog talks to one or two individuals at my club, in a very particular way. (Could it be certain people are particularly seductive, maybe their intonation or voice pitch? These 2 women do have a kind of higher pitched voice than mine). He goes up to them and starts up a sort of growly, hooty conversation.

    This same dog, when I do the trick “speak”, has a hard time getting any sound out, with a lot of concentration, just a barely audible little “wuf”.

    When I come home, he lets me know he’s waiting, by howling like a wolf, before I get to the gate.


  10. Myrna says:
    Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 3:12pm

    Play on!!!!!
    So easy when you have a puppy! Even young dogs have a sort of puppy license. With our puppies we are are goofy as you Susan!
    But what about our older dogs doing agility at masters level? My older girl was starting to show signs of distraction, going slower, certainly less excited about doing agility. A physical problem??? Ruled out. One day in a goofy frame of mind I started to treat her like I do my young dog and her ears pricked up. I started talking to her again, actually being with her, not just expecting her to perform like she was so capable of. She did her usual good performance but with speed and enthusiam. We are still in the relearning mode but in a short time she is even starting to single step her weaves as she is going too fast to bounce. Your blog has opened up my eyes to a fact that took me a long time to try and figure out on my own.
    So, my advise to others with my problem: open the crate and invite your dog out to play with you, to really play with you! If you don’t know how then watch Susan Garrett in her videos and DVD’s and open your heart! If you are worried that your friends will think your are nuts then you will know you are doing it right!


  11. Lynda Orton-Hill says:
    Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 1:49pm

    sometimes those of us around Susan get lost in the moment watching her and her dogs have the greatest conversations!



  12. Sarah says:
    Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 1:00pm

    This talk of having FUN with your dog couldn’t be more appropriately timed pour moi– I recently had the revelation that my young dog is doing a great job of teaching me how to BE fun and HAVE fun. Because of her I came to realize that I had quite a case of Serious Dogtraineritis 🙂 Lots of theory and rules and goals and reinforcement schedules and contingency plans and human stuff all wadded up in my head, but very little room for just goofing around and letting it all hang out (so to speak). Recently we’ve had a couple of AWESOME times where we were just playing and cuddling and having fun getting lost in the moment, and wham-o, a really amazing training session would pop out where so many dots would connect for each of us. At the end is the most awesome, high feeling. THAT must be what a “10” is, and that’s my new hook for the year. Qs and ribbons and such be damned!


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