When a 4-year-old German shepherd named Caleb first arrived at Dogs Trust shelter in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, he seemed untrained in the most basic commands. Shelter staff figured he just needed a little time to adjust. So they showered him with love and gave him his space.
“Caleb settled in very quickly to his new environment,” says Kayla Maryon, regional press officer for Dogs Trust. But he continued to act clueless about commands, remaining unresponsive to a simple “sit” or “down.” The staff began to worry that the sweet German shepherd might prove “untrainable.”
As it turns out, Caleb and the staff at Dogs Trust were just speaking different languages. Caleb came to the shelter from a family who had trained him in their native language, when they could no longer care for him.
“We quickly learnt that Caleb had only ever been taught commands in Polish — and as we only speak English, it proved tricky to train him!” says Maryon.
The day a Polish-speaking man arrived at the shelter to adopt another dog, everything changed. The staff asked Mariusz Budz to spend some time with Caleb. Budz commanded, “Siad,” which is “sit” in Polish. Like magic, Caleb relaxed and expertly dropped into a sit. “He immediately responded to the Polish gentleman and was doing all sorts of things that we couldn’t previously get him to do when we said the words in English,” says Maryon.
Training Caleb to understand English commands will take some time. The difficulty resides in the way dogs process human language. They understand sounds and gestures rather than words as meaning. You can train your dog in your own made-up secret language, and it will be just as effective. We do know dogs learn to respond in a specific way to specific sounds when they receive a positive reward. So there’s every reason to hope that Caleb can make the transition from Polish commands to English ones.
Of course, there has to be a starting point. “Once we knew that he understood Polish, we were able to learn a few basic Polish training commands such as ‘sit’, ‘paw’, ‘down’, and slowly he is getting better with his training,” say Maryon. “We’ve also been teaching him commands in English so he’ll be able to understand if he’s rehomed to an English speaking family.” The hope is that he will find his forever home with a family that also speaks Polish.
Caleb is a sweet, friendly dog who loves people. Like most German shepherds, he loves his toys, particularly playing fetch with his ball. Staff thinks he’ll do best as the only dog in the home, and if there are children, teenagers are better than toddlers. Most importantly, Caleb needs a loving home where he can live happily for the rest of his life.
If you think you can provide the perfect witaj w domu (and if you know that means, “welcome home”) for Caleb, contact the shelter at 0300 303 0292.