Talking about (and to) Dogs in the Italian Language

Mar 9, 2017


Il cane


Years ago while I was jogging in Italy, a distraught man stopped me to explain that his dog was trapped in a steep ravine. He could push him from behind, but would I call the dog to come to me? The man addressed me with the formal, respectful Lei form of “you.” Having not yet mastered the informal, I did the same with the dog. The man nearly fell over laughing when I called out “Signor Cane” (Mister Dog) and entreated it to be so kind as to come to me.

Yet dogs certainly deserve our respect. Think of all the roles that il migliore amico dell’uomo (man’s best friend) can play:

    *cane da guardia -– guard dog

    *cane da caccia –- hunting dog

    *cane da salotto –- lap dog

    *cane (da) pastore – sheep or shepherd dog

    *cane da tartufi -– truffle dog

    *cane (da) guida -– guide dog (for the blind)

    *cane da slitta -– sled dog

    *cane poliziotto –- police dog, sniffer dog

    *cane da salvataggio/soccorso –- search/rescue dogs

    *cane da valanga –- avalanche rescue dog

    *cane da salvataggio in acqua –- water rescue dog

    *cane antidroga –- sniffer dog trained to detect drugs

If you’re simply looking for a cucciolo (puppy, doggie) to love, visit a local canile (dog shelter) to adopt a pup as adorable as Agnes (above).  If you’d like your cagnolino (little pooch) to become bilingual, try giving i comandi (commands) in Italian and in English:

    *A cuccia! / Terra! — Down!

    *Seduto! /Siedi! – Sit!

    *Resta! / Fermo! – Stay!

    *Piede! – Heel! (to get a dog to walk side by side without pulling the leash)

    *Vieni qui! – Come here!

    *Lascia! – Drop it! / Let go!

    *Qua la zampa!—  Give me a paw!

    *Bravo! / Brava! – Good boy! /Good girl!

    *Andiamo! – Let’s go!

    *Giù! / Su! – Down! / Up! (as in, Off the couch! Get in the car!)

    *Prendilo! — Fetch!

Your amico a quattro zampe (four-legged friend) may inspire you to add new Italian words to describe its behaviors: abbaiare (bark), ringhiare (growl), scodinzolare (wag), mugolare (whine), latrare (howl) or guaire (yelp). But words in any language can’t really describe the way a dog fa la festa (gives a hearty welcome by wagging, barking and jumping) or warms your heart when it semplicemente si accoccola sulle tue ginocchia e ti fa compagnia! (simply snuggles up on your lap and keeps you company).

Words and Expressions

Attenti al cane — beware of dog

Essere come cane e gatto -– fight like cat and dog

Sembrare un cane bastonato -– to look like a beaten dog

Non svegliare il can che dorme –- let sleeping dogs lie

Da cani –- miserable, hard, terrible (as in vita da cani or a dog’s life)

 Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Romantic Language.



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