I had my first conversation with an Italian dog years ago while I was jogging near Porto Ercole. A distraught man stopped me to explain that his pet was trapped in a steep ravine. He could push him from behind, but would I call the pup 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 please be so kind as to come to me.
Last year I decided to get my first dog. Because of Covid-19 restrictions I couldn’t visit a a local canile (dog shelter). Online I found a cucciolo (puppy) with floppy ears and irresistible brown eyes. Rescued from a breeding mill, she seems to be a Cocker-Pomeranian mix. I named the pretty little girl Bellina. With an Italian name, I thought she should learn la bella lingua.
First, I had to expand my vocabulary. A “Learn Italian with Lurcrezia” video taught me some basics. Bellina would need a collare (collar), a medaglietta con il nome (a small medal with her name on one side and my telephone number on the other), a pettorina (a harness, from petto for chest) and a guinzaglio (leash). Then I was ready to walk the dog, which you can say three different ways in Italian: portare a spasso il cane, portare fuori il cane or portare fuori il cane a fare una passegiata. And the reason for most walks? In Italian a dog has to fare i bisogni (literally to make its needs or, more colloquially, do its business)— fare la cacca (poop) or fare la pipi (pee). So I never leave home without una busta (a plastic bag).
“Andiamo!” I call to Bellina “Let’s go!” With tail wagging, she heads out the door. Within minutes, she usually manages to chase a bird, charge at another dog or start licking something nasty. So I use these commands:
*A cuccia! / Terra! — Down!
*Resta! / Fermo! – Stay!
*Piede! – Heel! (to get her to walk by my side without pulling the leash)
*Lascia! – Drop it! / Let go!
When Bellina speaks to me, I don’t always understand what she’s saying, but I’ve learned the Italian words for the ways dogs communicate: abbaiare (bark), ringhiare (growl), scodinzolare (wag the tail), mugolare (whine), latrare (howl) and guaire (yelp). I also added a few more commands:
*Vieni qui! – Come here!
*Seduto! /Siedi! – Sit!
*Qua la zampa!— Give me a paw!
*Giù! / Su! – Down! / Up! (as in, Off the couch! Get in the car!)
*Prendilo! — Fetch!
So does my amica a quattro zampe (four-legged friend) understand and respond to these Italian directives? No more or less often than she does to their English equivalents. But my cagnolino (little pooch) never fails to warm my heart when she fa la festa (greets me with a hearty welcome by wagging, barking and jumping) or cuddles in my lap. That’s when I say the word she most likes to hear: “Brava!” (Good girl!)
Dianne Hales is the author of LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the World; LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language; and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered. You can download my most recent book, “A” Is for Amore, for free at diannehales.com.