When I first started learning Irish, my only study buddy was a small black kitten named Jonah. That’s right…in the absence of any fellow humans to practice with, I spoke Irish to my cat.
He was a very attentive listener, though the only Irish he himself could articulate was mí-ádh (“bad luck”), which is pretty appropriate, when you think about it.
It was all in good fun, and we both enjoyed the conversations, even if they were a bit one-sided! The whole thing became more serious, however, when we acquired another pet: a beautiful one-year-old miniature poodle named Wiley.
A happy dog with a sad past
Wiley had been returned under very suspicious circumstances to his breeder (one of those wonderful, ethical, breeders who will always take one of their pups back, no questions asked) a few months after his adoption.
When she finally got him back, working through Poodle Rescue to retrieve him from the groomer where he had essentially been abandoned, he was severely lame in his right hind leg, which required multiple surgeries to correct.
He also came back with a lot of baggage, including fear of men wearing hats, fear of deep-voiced men with strong accents, fear of a foot moving toward him, and fear of pretty much all of the standard obedience commands.
(Kind of gives you an idea of the kind of home he’d had, doesn’t it?)
Despite all this, he still had the happy, “the-world-is-my-friend” attitude of a well-bred miniature poodle, and with time, love, and patience, most of those fears went away. All of them, really, except for the obedience commands.
Poodles are among the most verbally oriented of the dog breeds. They have a natural facility for understanding human language, and often demonstrate this by responding to commands or an invitation to play or go for a walk regardless of the tone of voice or other circumstances surrounding the words.
Wiley was willing to accept that deep-voiced men with accents and wearing hats could be friends, but he was not able to accept that “heel” or “come” meant anything other than “you’re going to get hurt.”
That’s when I decided to retrain him…in Irish.
Not an unusual idea
I got the idea in part because a visitor to an Irish discussion forum I frequented had asked for dog obedience commands in Irish. It was a fairly common request, actually (right up there with suitable Irish names for a newly acquired pet).
Training a dog in a language other than the dominant one where you live is not an unusual concept, however. Police and military dogs are commonly trained in different languages (in the U.S., that usually means German).
Beginning back at the beginning
With that in mind, I decided to start re-training Wiley as if he were a completely untrained puppy, using Irish terms in place of the English ones.
This took a bit of thinking about, as Irish tends to be a bit more “wordy” than English. I had to come up with commands that were short enough to be useful, but still “good Irish.”
(Hey, I love this language…I’m not going to teach my dog bad Irish, right?)
A real conversation starter
The upside of all this (aside from the fact that it worked!) is that telling Wiley to do basic things has become a real conversation starter! In the post office, in the vet’s office, wherever I tell Wiley to do something, someone inevitably cocks his head and asks “what language is that?”
So, in addition to becoming the well-socialized, generally well-behaved, dog he was always meant to be, Wiley has become something of an ambassador for the Irish language, at least in this neck of the woods!
A while back, when we were out on a walk, we met a gentleman who, after seeing Wiley demonstrate his knowledge, said “Well, I’ll be. I guess he must be the only Irish-speaking poodle on the block!”
Train your dog in Irish!
If you’d like to train your dog in Irish, here are the commands we use with Wiley. Some of them are dialect-specific, and they’re certainly not the only possible commands you can use, so if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
Siúil (SHOO-il): Heel (literally “walk”)
Stad (stahd): Wait (literally “stand”)
Fan (fahn): Stay
Suigh síos: (See SHEE-uss): Sit
Luigh síos (Lee SHEE-uss): Lie down
Fág é (Fog ay): Leave it
Goitse (GUTCH-eh): Come
We’ve kept with English for “Okay” and “good dog,” as these weren’t phrases Wiley associated with abuse. but if you’d like to use Irish for those as well, some options are:
Ceart go leor (Kyart guh lyohr): Okay
Iontach maith (EEN-tukh my): Very good
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