According to research carried out by language learning app Busuu, Britain’s canine population is more likely to understand commands in different languages than any of its European or US counterparts.

Over 2,031 dog owners were surveyed as part of Busuu’s new research to find out how multi-lingual our pets are. They found over a quarter of owners said their pet responds to commands in three or more languages and that Spanish is the most popular ‘second language’ for our UK four-legged friends.

Spike (Busuu office dog), a Maltese adopted from Beirut who understands a mixture of English, French, Spanish and Arabic 

Sarah Whitehead, animal behaviour specialist and canine body language expert says,  “Dogs are amazingly good at making associations between cues – such as words – with our facial expressions and body language. This means that while we might say “Sit” in English, or Japanese, it’s our tiny intention movements – “tells” if you like – that the dog is really picking up on. And of course, once they have made those associations, and get reinforced for it – whether through gaining our attention, or a treat, they repeat it again and again!

“Dogs have evolved to be able to ‘read’ us like true experts – in fact, research tells us that dogs even ‘scan’ human faces in the same way that people do, picking up on our emotional states as well as the clues as to what we are about to do next.

Lykke the very talented Golden Retriever who understands English and Swedish

“They really are the ultimate in multilingual communicators, and can rapidly add words to their repertoire of response – no matter what language they are spoken in.”

The language learning app has also compiled a list of the most commonly used commands in a range of different languages, for owners keen to expand their pet’s language repertoire:

English French German Italian Spanish Polish
Fetch Attrape Hol Prendi Trae Aport
Sit Assis Sitz Seduto/a Sientate Siad
Get down Descends Runter Vai giù Agáchate Zejdź
Roll over Roule Rolle Rotola Da una vuelta Przewrót
Leave Laisse Ab Lascia Vete Zostaw
Paw Donne la patte Gib Pfötchen Zampa Toca con la pata Łapa
Here Au pied Hier Vieni Aquí Noga
Lie down Couché Platz Terra Túmbate Waruj


Kirsten Campbell-Howes, Head of Education, Busuu says, “One of the most common barriers for people learning a new language is shyness or fear of getting things wrong.  Our pets, it seems, have no such qualms.  Just under half (44 per cent of the Busuu community who own a dog reported that their pet could understand commands in more than one language, irrespective of the breed.

“Whilst our pets don’t have to worry about grammar or complicated vocabulary, they also don’t seem to have a fear of trying, especially for a reward.  Spike, a dog who’s often found in the Busuu office can understand commands in four languages.  He doesn’t always get every response right, but he has a lot of fun trying.”

Images by Busuu


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