It's true. I tested him last night. He STILL doesn't know any words. "Lie down" maybe. But everything else is complete guesses. He knows that when I say something he's supposed to do something but what he gives me is directly correlated to the last thing he did that earned him a click and treat.
Its something I've noticed about him for awhile (and blogged about before) and apparently it hasn't gotten any better. He is acutely tuned in to context. He SEES everything. And smells everything. He HEARS everything for that matter--but I guess words are just sound to him. He pays attention to the way I'm standing while I teach him a behavior, where he is in the room, what else is around him--to the FACT that words are coming out of my mouth--but NOT apparently to the specific words coming out of my mouth. Thus, if I plant him on a rug next to the kitchen and lean against the wall with my clicker hand near my chest and the other at my side, he is guaranteed to offer me a wave. And if I happen to say "wave" right before he does it, it looks like he's performing on cue. But he's really not.
Last night I asked for a "bummer" (lie down with chin on floor) from a sit. No luck. I waited him out and clicked when he got it right. Then I asked for the same thing a few more times. Sit-bummer-sit-bummer (he's getting it!)-sit-bummer-sit-WAVE . . . . uh, you can probably guess what happened next. He wasn't listening to the word at all. Just the fact that I was saying something and he had the pattern down. And he wasn't anticipating the pattern either . . . he was waiting for the cue!
He SEEMS to know a few words, especially the ones that get used ALL THE TIME in his daily life, but I am now wondering if at least some of that is only because there are consistent contextual clues. He knows his name, he knows a recall, he SEEMS to know "lie down" and "sit" though if I am attempting to cycle through his tricks, like last night and add them in he forgets what they mean. He knows "stay here" (boundary cue) and "ok" (release). He knows "kennel." I'm not sure why he knows these things, but still can't tell the difference between lie down, bummer, crawl, roll over, stand, place, and wave. As I've posted about before, he also knew "touch" (nose target) and "step" (foot target) but could never reliably give me the right one if the target object was the same.
It's very strange. My border collies TOTALLY "get" the concept that actions and things have names, and it has always been super easy to name their behaviors--once I have the behavior, all I have to do is pair it up with the command a few times and it's done! Not so with Elo. Facebook tells me it's a cattle dog thing. I'm not sure what to do about it. Not that it's a big deal--he doesn't NEED to know any words. He does the things I need him to do. Maybe I should switch to hand signals only. I haven't done much with him lately--maybe this winter I will try to teach him some formal obedience and see how that goes. I still think he would be a super fun Rally dog, if I can get him past his dog issues.