The human language
Humans and communication; we use words and a lot of them don't we? We actually do use body language but most of the time we rely on our words to get a point across. Each and every word has a meaning but when we use words to communicate to our dogs; they meaning is lost in translation. In fact the meaning was never there unless we gave the words a meaning. When we talk to our dogs; they listen for words that have a meaning to them. If we say "Luke; would you like to go to the park and have a walk today?" He hears "Luke; would you *&*&^&^%%$%$#%%&**^!)_*&%$$#@@#$%%^ walk &&^%$##@@@$?" First; he knows that "Luke" has something to do with him; and "would you" has a great association because it always means something good as well. The rest of the words have no meaning; he listens until he hears the word he is anticipating "WALK," and then the excitement begins.
I often see people using words with their dog; and it seems quite clear that the dog has no understanding of the words. Even some of the most basic words have little value if they hold no meaning to a dog. "Stay;" this is a very commonly used word and one that many never enlighten their dog to the true meaning. I have asked some of my clients as they tell their dog to stay, "have you taught your dog what stay means?" They look at me with a sudden realization; "no not really." So many owners think that dogs just understand certain dog words like STAY, HEEL or COME.
Many dogs that I see also don't know their name; it has been another word simply thrown around with not a whole lot of value put onto it. Name training is the very first word association that should be taught; and until you get a response when you call out their name, you still have work to do. I have met many dogs that upon hearing their name react like no one is speaking. No response; absolutely nothing. I then ask the owner to call the dogs name; still nothing. Then I ask the owner to say "cookie or walk;" presto a response.
I try to teach my dogs the meaning to many words; it is work creating an association. Some words are easy to explain; words that are used on a daily basis or very common like "cookie, walk, car etc." Repetition is the key; but along with echoing a word you must create an association to the word itself. "Lizard," was quickly learned in my house; so much so that I now have to say "there is an L outside." Luke is my big listener; he never misses a thing and is constantly learning new words. If I say to my husband "look at this;" Luke will fly over with his giant ears held high to see what we are "looking" at.
As we use words to try to communicate to our dogs; they listen to tone of voice and watch our body language. This is how dogs communicate; so if you want to teach them the meaning of a word you need to make it very clear and give the word a definitive meaning. When you are trying to teach your dog a behavior associated with a word; you must use repetition as well as consistency. If you ask your dog to stay and they baulk at the idea which leads you to frustration causing you to give up; you have then failed to teach your dog the true meaning of "stay." You have taught your dog that it only means "stay" if you really want to "stay." "STAY" should mean; "stay" until I tell you to un-stay.
Dogs deal in black and white; it is how they learn best. Gray areas are a place where we all; both humans and dogs get lost.