Why Dog Trainers Give Commands in Foreign Languages

I  read an article about why many dog trainers give commands in German even if they don’t actually speak the language. I started thinking and it set me off on a quasi verbal adventure of my own.. here’s my round about take on it… (I can never get straight to the point, then you’d miss out on all my unique and crazy ramblings.)

Our personal dogs are strictly pets these days. Java hasn’t been in competition since we opened our Ranch, but when she did compete, she was something to behold. 


High Octane

Even though she’s no longer competing, she still knows a few hand signals, which I can tell you is very handy when you’re 150 yards from your dog and want them to do something. 

Training your dog to respond to commands in a different language cuts down on the whole, selective hearing thing. You know,  Selective Hearing. It’s when you tell your dog to do something and they pretend that they either didn’t hear you or assumed that you were talking to yourself, another human or in some cases, another dog and didn’t know it was directed at them.

When you use the common conversation words for commands, it can get very confusing for the dog which is one of the reasons we do not use “Ok” as a proper release command. What’s a release command?  Yikes this is turning into an entire blog article, not just a quick, “here’s something fun to do,” Facebook post. 

If you don’t know what a release command is, here’s an example.  You tell your dog to Sit. A well trained dog will sit there until it gets another command or until he or she is released to do their own thing.  (Yes, a well trained dog will REALLY DO THAT.) After your dog has done a brilliant sit, you should praise them and release them to go on about their business.

The Sit means sit until I tell you differently / release command style of training is good in many different ways.  Imagine for example, how awesome it would be to be able to put your dog in a sit and actually be able to unload an entire carload of groceries without having your dog underfoot. It can be done. By establishing a release command, it relieves the dog of having to decide if we’ve forgotten about his 25 minute sit, or if he’s supposed to lay down and go to sleep. This in a nutshell is why you need a release command. 

Problem is, you’ve got to remember to release the dog, every single time you put them in a sit or a down.  Your dog won’t hold a down stay or a sit for that long unless you remember to praise and reward him and to release him. 

At one point in time I could put Java in a down stay and walk away…  I would come back 20;to 30 minutes later and she would still be there.   Sure I had to practice it and it took a while to build up to that duration, but she could do it.  I on the other hand had to set an alarm on my cell phone to remember to go back and praise and release her.  As far as command choices, we use the word “Release,” for the release command. It makes sense to us.

It’s very common to use the word, “Okay” for the release command.  I feel that comes up too frequently in conversation to be a safe and effective release word.  If you’ve got your dog sitting alongside your car in a downtown parking lot and your talking on your cell phone and someone says, “Meet you there in fifteen minutes” and you reply “Okay”  the choice of that release word could cost your dog its life.  Now you completely understand  and I’ve demonstrated an excellent reason why some dog trainers train commands in German.

Here’s another reason for using a different language to give commands. If all conversation is in English, Dogs can’t tell if you’re talking to them, another human or even another dog. 

Don’t be afraid to have some fun with this, If you add hand Signals to the current commands before you start using foreign language words, your transition will go much, much faster. The words you use for the commands are nothing more than a marker for the behavior as is the hand signal.  By adding the hand signal first, you’ll remove the ambiguity of training a brand new command.  Dogs don’t  think in words like people do and you’re not likely to confuse them if as long as you’re consistent.

Below is a link to a PDF file which contains a list of German Translations for Common Dog Commands. (Don’t forget to use and choose a release command, to release your dog from a sit or down… we use Release.) 


There’s one other command  we use for when our work or play time together is over. It’s a command I use to let them know that they are welcome to do as they please. The one we use is “Take a Break”  This is the phrase that sends Java straight for her kiddie pool this time of year and always with a HUGE SMILE on her face.  I think I may “Take a Break” myself, but mine is much more apt to include a tasty adult beverage and just maybe a game of fetch with my pretty girl, Java.


High Octane Java, Adventure Dog Ranch


Until next time, enjoy the time you’ve got with your pets… you never know when they’ll be called home to heaven. Steve’s Cousin Dale (One of the “Adventure Boys,”) and the entire Larsen Family,  has had a real rough time of it this summer, losing 2 beloved pets in less than a two month span.  It’s made me sit up and take notice that any day could be their (or frankly, my,) last.  It drives me to tell people how I feel more openly and cry a lot more than normal.  I guess I’m only human after all.  To Err is human, to Forgive, Canine.

                                                            –Kerri  “The Alpha Dogs’ Wife”


About adventuredogs

I'm the "Alpha Dog's" wife... Life Partner and Co-owner of Adventure Dog Ranch, The Vacation Destination for Dogs! A place where canines socialize, exercise and have fun. You don't have to feel guilty when you take a vacation, your dog can have his very own vacation with us!
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15 Responses to Why Dog Trainers Give Commands in Foreign Languages

  1. Kris says:

    It’s funny – your article stresses the importance of a “release”/free command, but the .pdf you have here does not mention what that word might be? So, after I tell my dog to “sitz”, or “platz”……………. then what?

    • Kris, you make a valid point. The release word can be anything you choose. Many people simply use the work “Okay” but I find that comes up a little bit too often in normal conversation so I prefer to use either the word, “release” for a working dog or the phrase “go play,” for a pet, but it’s completely up to you.

      It’s really all about consistency, as the only way your dog knows that he/she is free to do his own thing, is if you tell him.

    • Mia Mü. says:

      The German translation of release is frei (pronounce like fry) I am German and train my dog to only listen to English command so the other way around which is really ironic.

    • Birte Meier says:

      We say : ” ok” over here. I am German.

  2. pjt1999nyc says:

    A very nice and informative article in regards to dog training!!!

  3. I am toying with the idea of using a foreign language in training as well, but I also have done extensive research, some of which suggests that with words/commands that are more than two syllables, dogs often only really notice the last syllable (it’s the reason some trainers tell you not to use the dog’s name at the end of the command. ) In additional, at least for my own personal preferences, brevity is preferable. Neither the command nor the conditioned reinforcer or release should take too long to get out, which would definitely rule out some languages (German seems pretty good with the curt syllables though 😉 )

    • Alienredqueen,

      When I wrote this post I was thinking of the German commands in Shutzhund training specifically, those hard syllables translate very well to dog ears.
      The whole game varies with location / distractions too. Inside the house, my dogs can even spell! W-A-L-K, O-u-T-S-I-D-E, and B-A-L-L. But once outside and the full force of mother nature hits their nostrils, I’m lucky if their ears work at all. (There was a FMRI study done a while back that confirmed that dog ears don’t work well when the nose is engaged.) I’m with you on the Keep is simple and concise method. I also like to train with my commands given at different volumes (both with and without hand signals) so that the dog will respond just as well to a whisper as a shout or to a simple hand signal.

      • It’s a great idea to generalize training and do it with ans without hand commands, because although dogs are able to discern minute differences, they seem to be unable to generalize to other areas or situations (which may be a second reason you have trouble with your dog outside but not inside.) But my mother would likely die laughing if she found there was actual scientific basis for “selective hearing!” haha She’d tell you she always knew it was true!
        Incidentally, a friend if mine’s dog is way more in tune with her gestures and body language than with her actual cues. When he is unclear on a given cue (say, “go to bed”) I told her rather than repeat the cue, just repeat the gesture she always uses while saying nothing (to sort of give him a hint) …. worked like a charm. 😀

      • My Grandmother would have made a joke and told me that some omnipotent universal force gave dogs ears and a nose but not enough brain power to run them simultaneously… and then she would have said something like, “I’m as dizzy as a Fart in a whirlwind” sat down hard, pointed accross the street and said, “That’s where Homer is buried.”

        TMI… I know…

      • Maybe, but I literally laughed out loud!

  4. SIera says:

    This was a really great article. I am working on training my dog in these commands. THank you.

  5. Birte Meier says:

    Thats intresting but what will the germans do to train their dogs😉.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I’ve been a little absent lately, working 80 hours a week for 13 years or so, well it gets to a person after a while, even if you love what you do. Finding time to write has been problematic. Losing our 3 best canine buddies within months of each other didn’t help either. We recently adopted a beautiful Yellow Lab named Heidi, I figure there will be some stories that present themselves eventually and now that we’re in Corona Virus Lockdown Hell, well anything is possible. Stick around, I might find time to write again, soon.

  6. Great information! Thanks for your hard work!

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