T-Minus 10 Days: Smokey’s Vocabulary

“Smokey, where’s Shelby? Go get Shelby.” Our three-year old German shepherd cocked his head to the side, pushing his broken left ear nearly to the floor.

It is a practice we picked up with Dusty. About a week before we went to go pick up Dusty, we would make sure to say her name about ten times a day. At first, it was just a fun game to watch Smokey cock his head in confusion and try to get cute pictures of him doing it.

But for Smokey, it turns out it was much more than a game. Did you know that your German shepherd has the learning capacity of a seven-year old child and can learn up to 1,000 words? Recently, a Border Collie just broke that record, but let’s assume for all intents and purposes that the shepherd is the smartest breed known to man.

When we first got Smokey, he had an incredibly rudimentary vocabulary. He didn’t know “Jet” for example, his name at the time. He didn’t know “sit” “stay” or “down”. He did know, curiously, that “K-9” was something very exciting. For the first few months we had him, every time we said the word,  he would jump up and bark and run around like someone was cooking a $500 piece of filet mignon just for him. We never figured out what it meant, and eventually, whenever the word didn’t elicit the response he was expecting, we wore it out.

That being said, Smokey’s vocabulary is extensive now. He knows the not-so-fun words like “sit” “stay” and “nightnight”, and he knows all of the fun words like “dinner” “cookie” “Frosty Paws” and “outside” and the REALLY fun words like “wannagotoSt.Pete’s” “gobyebyeinthecar” and “goseegrandpa”. He also knows all of his toys by name. There is the “Gogettherope” the “Gogetthemonkey” the “Gogetthenylabone” and of course the “NoIdon’twanttoplaywithyourkongwobbleitisnotatugtoy”. So the “GogettheDusty” was worth a head cock as is the “GogettheShelby”.

The really interesting thing about this game though, was that it seemed to work. When Dusty finally came home, as soon as we put her in front of him and said, “Smokey, this is Dusty,” he knew her name. He’d heard it a thousand times at that point. So when Dusty was in the other room being bad, and we had both worked 10 or 12 hour days and didn’t feel much like getting up to chase her for the fortieth time that night, Smokey found a new game. It was called “GogetDusty”, and he reveled in it. As soon as we said those magic words, he would be up from his slumber in a flash and off to seek her out. As soon as he found her, he would herd her back into the room where we were with her hanging on his jowls the whole way.

When we lost Dusty, Smokey started playing the “GogetApollo” game, but he doesn’t seem to like it as much. After all, all he has to do when the cat is being naughty is herd him back into the basement, which Apollo does in a flash. Not much fight there, no challenge. I think he’s looking forward to the “GogetShelby” game, even if he doesn’t quite know what a “Shelby” is yet.

We spend a lot of time talking to our dog. It may seem weird (maybe not so much after Robert’s latest post), but we try to talk to him like an adult. I read somewhere that a dog can learn a new word every week. This week, that word happens to be “Shelby”, so we incorporate it into a lot of our conversations, helping him to store it for later recognition.

For example, this one that happened last night, “Smokey. We are getting you another sister. Get ready for your world to be rocked buddy. But maybe Shelby won’t bite your pee pee like Dusty did. I’m not making any promises, but maybe.”

Joe shook his head, “Shelby probably will.” At the head cock, he added, “Where’s Shelby? Go get Shelby!”

He didn’t move. He isn’t stupid. He knows that there is no such thing as a “Shelby” in our household, and he wasn’t about to waste the energy trying to find the mystery thing. Now, if we had said, “Where’s your kitty? Go get your kitty!” He would have jumped right up and grabbed his pink kitty toy (Joe keeps trying to mold “GogetApollo” into “Gogetthekitty” hoping for the same shaking and tugging on the cat’s neck that Smokey performs on his stuffed cat, but like I said, he’s no dumby and since mommy is his favorite, he doesn’t want to anger her by accidentally getting “Apollo” instead of “kitty”).

So for the next ten days, this will be our routine. Every morning and night we will instill in him the “Shelby” word. He will amuse us by cocking his head and whining, but in ten days, when we bring Shelby home from the airport, he’ll be able to put two and two together, and his word of the week won’t be wasted.