Can dogs learn to spell?
At least one dog can. Penny was found wandering the streets as a pup and was taken to a local shelter. She was adopted and returned several times, and it was starting to look like she wasn’t ever going to find a home that would accept her.
Little did everyone know, Penny was a very smart pup.
Everyone was about to find out, though. When Leonora Anzaldua saw Penny, she fell in love with her. Penny had been returned so many times because of her destructive behavior; the shelter assumed she would be back. Leonora had a plan, though. She was going to give Penny plenty of stimulating toys and activities to keep her busy, so she didn’t need to be destructive.
When Penny caught on to her commands extremely fast, Leonora wondered what else Penny could learn.
Leonora decided to buy some letters to see if Penny could recognize shapes. Of course, she could. She taught Penny how to pick out the letters in her name and, eventually, Penny learned to spell.
While Penny is clearly a very smart pup, she isn’t the only one that has learned how to spell. Pat Curry recently found out her dog can spell when she tried to outsmart her by spelling things out, so the dog wouldn’t know where she was going.
It didn’t take long for the dog to catch on.
“If we weren’t going to take her with us, we would spell B-A-N-K. It wasn’t long before spelling the word got the same reaction as saying it. So, we actually started saying ‘the place where we put money’ instead. Even that didn’t work for long. As soon as she heard me tearing a check or a deposit slip out of the checkbook, she headed for the door.”
Brian Ogle, lead anthrozoology instructor at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, explained that dogs don’t realize that they are spelling or know the letters; they just learn to associate the term with the letters instead of the word.
“For example, instead of asking if Fido wants to go for a walk, every time say W-A-L-K instead. Then go grab the leash and take the dog on the walk. Most dogs will quickly learn to associate the spelled-out word with the activity or object. When they learn that W-A-L-K means that you’re going for a stroll around the neighborhood, they’ll start getting excited about the spelling.”
Sally Morgan, a holistic physical therapist, explained how dogs respond to words, letters, and the way they are spoken to. She said:
“Dogs learn our language over time, without us even trying to teach them specific names. … This is why it is most effective to speak to your dog in a whole sentence, using as well ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It is incredible how using polite language results in the dog doing what you ask nearly every time.”
Morgan explained that dogs like to make people happy.
The more and longer we talk to them, the more likely they are to pay attention and understand what is being said to them. She added:
“When we speak to dogs in full sentences, we are more likely to pause and gaze at them, stimulating the trust hormone oxytocin between us and within each of us. This establishes a connection between dog and human, and again, increases the tendency of the dog to do as you requested.”
That might be the case for pets that hear words, but how is it possible that Penny can actually spell them?
According to her owner, it’s just a lot of practice and the fact that she is one smart pup. At least Penny is finally with someone who can appreciate her for everything that she is and help make her a better and smarter pup.
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