Dogs and the spelling strategy

Spelling words in front of children is a common parental strategy. When used, kids don’t know what parents are discussing.

My husband, Ed, and I employed it with our daughter, Jordan.

I remember spelling “babysitter” when Ed and I were making plans for a Saturday night party. Jordan gave me a not-too-pleasant look.

“Do you know what I just spelled?”

Seven-year-old Jordan smiled slyly. “Yes, and I’m not a baby,” she said. “I want a teen sitter.”

That was the last time we used that communication strategy until Teddy, our 4-year-old black lab, joined the family.

As a 1-year-old, Teddy quickly picked-up the meaning of several words. When that happened, we naturally employed the spelling strategy. As he grew, so did the list.

Depending on the context of the conversation, we spell “treat,” “walk,” “toothbrush,” “ball,” “cheese” and “ice cream” when “big ears” is in hearing range.

According to dog psychologists, dogs can learn around 250 words when owners use positive training strategies.

That’s a lot of spelling words. In my former life, I did academic research, so I dusted off my 20 years of expertise and went to work to learn about families, dogs and the spelling of familiar words.

I asked my friends on Facebook. They didn’t disappoint. Many gave me a list of words routinely spelled in front of their beloved canines.

The Schutter Family of Centerville includes six human kids and one furry one. Pete, a 7-year-old Cockapoo, is a smart little bugger so spelling is a necessity.

Say “treat” and he comes running. “ Bye bye” and the white and light brown furball will be waiting for you at the garage door. “Walk” and Pete will be sitting next to your feet ready to go.

Max, an 8-year-old Airedale, lives with his human parents, Cindy and Mark Plummer in Tipp City. When either one says “park,” Max perks up his ears and tilts his head. The pup knows exactly where he’s headed.

Anna Bella, a 4-year-old Lab Chow mix, and Rita, a 6-year-old Beagle Lab mix, live in Beavercreek with the Fox family. Their human parents spell “out” because the two best friends jump up and down with anticipation of going outside to play or better yet a walk. Rita jumps so high it can be hard to get her harness on her.

I wound up my research by talking with friends from other parts of the country.

The Hall family of Green, Ohio have a 10-year-old brindle-colored Puggle named Leeza. The pooch enjoys family weekend camping trips at their camper in Ravenna. The word “camper” needs to be spelled or the senior lady will run around yipping until she and the family are out the door and headed toward another fun camping weekend.

Lotto is a 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier that lives with the Lepley family in North Port, Florida. When he was 1, the family had to spell “walk.” By the time he was 2, they had abandoned spelling the word and saying “ambulation.” The smart canine can tell time, too, letting family members know it’s time for his medications or dinner.

“Carrot” is now added to our spelling list. If we don’t spell it, Teddy sits in front of the refrigerator until one appears from behind the silver door.

Karin Spicer, a magazine writer, has been entertaining families for more than 20 years. She lives in Bellbrook with her family and two furry animals all who provide inspiration for her work. She can be reached at

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