Open Thread

Just out of curiosity, how much do you all think your dogs understand you when you talk to them?

I was sitting here in the chair with Lily sitting on my lap, and she was facing me, looking at me lovingly while I spent twenty minutes delicately rubbing her ears and nose and whiskers and telling her how much I loved her, and she was just sitting there, loving on me, slowly blinking her eyes. It was very nice, and not so much different from every morning, when I wake up, and rub my little doggies down before getting out of bed. We have rituals.

What was weird, though, was that Rosie was on the couch, and eyeballing me the whole time, and I just have the feeling that Lily, whom I love more than life itself, doesn’t understand me, but just appreciates the unconditional love. Rosie, on the other hand, was looking at me with that JRT look we all know and love, and I really think she understood what I was saying to Lily.

So after Lily got up and moved on to somewhere else, Rosie ran over, jumped up on my lap, and was sitting eyeballing me in the same position Lily was just in. And as I pet her, scruffling her ears and sloftly petting her face and whiskers and telling her I love her, I swear that Rosie understood me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love both my little piglets, but I just can not escape the fact that Rosie is so much smarter than Lily and really understands what I am saying. Lily just loves me unconditionally, as I love her, and she will always be my favorite, but I can’t get away from the fact that Rosie knows what I am saying.

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156 replies
  1. 1
  2. 2

    I think this pretty much says it all.

    ETA: BGinCHI beats me by one minute. One.

  3. 3
    Maude says:

    You’re right. Tunch understand more that Rosie. I read that dogs understand about 600 words and cats understand even more.
    Also, the tone of voice is understood very well.
    With Tunch, watch the back of your head.

  4. 4
    BGinCHI says:

    @James E. Powell: I think those of us who are a certain age learned a lot from Mr. Larson.

    For instance: Beware of Doug.

    Also, too, I miss Berke Breathed.

  5. 5
    kwAwk says:

    It’s when you start to believe that they can talk back that you know you have a problem. Especially if they start telling you how to impress Jodi Foster.

  6. 6
    jl says:

    The first dog my family had when I was a kid, the laziest dog in the history of the multiverse, understood everything we said in the house, whether it concerned her or not. She just did not care at all about it unless it had something to with her food or whether she would have to move off the couch. Her complete indifference, except when those two topics came up, was the key.

    Edit: Except walks. For walks she was only almost the laziest dog on earth, and very ready to amble along until she had her fill of some grass, miscellaneous garbage and dog poop she managed lunge at and chew along the way.

    And if she saw the door open wide enough and unattended long enough for her to bolt out the door unattended, when she would suddenly develop several quasars worth of energy.

  7. 7
    General Stuck says:

    I loved her, and she was just sitting there, loving on me, slowly blinking her eyes. It was very nice, and not so much different from every morning, when I wake up, and rub my little doggies down before getting out of bed. We have rituals.

    You’re going to give Punchy an aneurism talking like that. I think dogs, the ones not afflicted by various doggy behavioral syndromes, are well tuned into basic human emotion in relationship to their owners, and filter that through their natural pack behavior instincts.

    But there are moments I have with sir Charles that are not covered by that theory of interaction with pets. It is personal and really nothing more than we are fast friends in this realm of flesh and blood, without conditions, spinning madly together upon the mortal coil of planet earth.

  8. 8
    RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist says:

    Tone of voice, for sure. They probably get that better than people do. But language in the vocab/syntax sense? Probably not enough to fill a thimble.
    Sorry. But they do love you right back, John.

  9. 9
    Rosie Outlook says:

    Try addressing Lily in another language. Maybe she doesn’t speak English. I am serious. My neighborhood is about 1/3 Mexican, and there are local dogs who stare blankly if you call them in English but run up to be petted if you call them in Spanish.

  10. 10
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @BGinCHI: We need a Beware of Doug rotating tagline, should they be reinstated with the rebuild.

    Our dogs have always seemed to understand. Msr. Q always swore Louise could spell – if we spelled c-o-o-k-i-e she would go to the cabinet where the dog pastries lived. As she would if we said “baked good” or spelled it. We miss her and Django both. Layla doesn’t spell, but she’s got a pretty large vocabulary. I keep teeling her she wants a pal now that Django is gone, but she has so far declined to play nicely with any we’ve introduced her to at the shelter.

  11. 11
    Baud says:

    Based on personal experience, dogs understand all the various synonyms of “food” and “walk” in the English language and in multiple other Indo-European and non-Indo-European language families.

  12. 12
    jl says:

    @Rosie Outlook: Wonder if you can get any of those CD language courses for dogs? Something like Teach Yourself Esperanto for dogs at $14.95.

  13. 13
    PurpleGirl says:

    @BGinCHI: Yes. YES. YES. I was thinking of that cartoon also.

    ETA: The racing greyhounds were dumb, empty skulls (especially Sardi). Hugo (the Dobermann) on the other hand was smart and I’m sure understood a lot.

  14. 14

    Some dogs are smarter than others, we always knew that. Judy was so much smarter than Cueball. It would appear that Judy knew exactly what we were saying whereas Cueball would sort of comprehend things differently. Right now we are trying to get Flossie to understand basic commands, I think she is going to be a smart dog.

  15. 15
    gogol's wife says:

    @RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist:

    I think you’re right. But there’s one YouTube video, of “two cats talking,” and I swear my cat Sasha hears some kind of articulate message from those cats that she understands. She pays no attention to any other cat videos.

  16. 16
    cathyx says:

    If Rosie knows what you’re saying, then don’t tell Lily she’s your favorite in front of Rosie.

  17. 17
    Lavocat says:

    You’re not supposed to drink after you take the medication you just took.

    It … does stuff to you. Like makes you think you can communicate with animals.

    Time for some Little Feat to work off that high.

  18. 18
    01jack says:

    They certainly know the obvious few words – mostly commands, except for “walk.”

    But as for the rest of the conversation, they may not have the vocabulary, but can very much know what we are saying by reading the situation, gestures, and tone of voice.

    I talk to my terrier mix all the time, and seldom feel like I’m wasting my breath.

  19. 19
    HRA says:

    I think a lot of it is repetition. Some of it is accompanied with hand gestures. Sometimes he chooses to ignore it all. One word he knows for sure is treat.

  20. 20
    salsify says:

    We have two dogs, a Bouvier and a rescue mix of terrier meets Icelandic sheepdog. They are both great doggies and are well loved but the Bouv is whip smart and studies us and there clearly is judgment involved in her examination. I wouldn’t want it any other way, she keeps us honest. But her studied staring can be disconcerting. Her sister is just a happy undulating silly who gets distracted by shiny things.

  21. 21
    jah46inaz says:

    Well, this is related, although not entirely on topic. I read a thing once about a guy who had three small dogs (seemed like he was talking chihuahua sized), and they had certain preferred “lounging” spots. The alpha/smartest dog, when one of the others was in his favorite spot, would run to the front screen door and start barking. The other two would join him, and then he would go to the preferred spot and lie down. One night, the alpha ran to the door and started barking, the other two joined in, but the barking didn’t stop, so the master went to the door to see what was going on. He looked outside, and there was nothing there, so he turned around to return to his seat, and the alpha dog was in his chair. So, who’s training who???

  22. 22
    danimal says:

    @BGinCHI: @James E. Powell: Good God, you guys are quick. Teach me to take a phone call.

    It’s kind of scary how many of us immediately thought of that cartoon.

  23. 23
    maya says:

    Woof, woof! Arff, arff! You know what I’m sayin’?

  24. 24
    RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist says:

    How many dog owners have eliminated the word ‘walk’ from their vocabulary to avoid causing havoc among the canines? We have. I catch myself saying perambulate or stroll all the time because the inhibition against ‘walk’ is so strong.

  25. 25
    PurpleGirl says:

    @danimal: We kept that cartoon on the fridge in Peekskill.

  26. 26

    @RossinDetroit, Rational Subjectivist: We have to say “sandy place” instead of beach or it is mayhem around here. One of our dogs is a retaliatory indoor pooper as well.

  27. 27
    Bruce S says:

    “how much do you all think your dogs understand you when you talk to them?”

    Varies with how much one has had to drink.

  28. 28
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Jeez, folks, I love my dog, too, but his brain is smaller than a walnut. Stimulus/response is about all you get.

  29. 29

    My Sam knew the difference between “red ball” and “red bone” as in which I wanted to throw for him: “Go get your red bone,” and he’d get it. He also learned what “T-R-E-A-T” spelled at the age of six months.

  30. 30
    Rosie Outlook says:

    @jl: John will probably sign up with the Doctor Doolittle School of Languages so he can learn to converse with Lily.

  31. 31
    Rosie Outlook says:

    Remember that border collie in Germany who made the news because he had something like an 800-word vocabulary?

  32. 32

    It’s not simply intelligence but also interest. Lily may be just as smart or smarter than Rosie, but she may indeed be quite content to bask in unconditional love. Rosie may be more interested in a dialogue.

    My wonderful Orbit was a supergenius and highly relational with both people and other dogs. Comet was not as relational so I sometimes wondered if he wasn’t as smart as Orbit. But then every once in a while, Tunchlike, he would do something that showed that, underneath it all, he had an agenda.

  33. 33
    salsify says:

    @ranchandsyrup: We use the walking fingers motion to avoid the chaos, spelling was lost to us early on.

  34. 34
    dexwood says:

    OK, I wish I could stick around and talk, but this grabbed me… best dog combo we’ve ever had, a pair, was a Bouvier and a Terrier mix, large and small, smart,loyal, brave, loving. Lost them six months apart. Further, dogs have a sense of fairness. They are often jealous of each other. They know when the other one is getting more, they want it too, they’re paying attention. A good dog is always in tune with its surroundings, and lives to make his or her owner happy. That’s how they end up owning me, anyway.
    Night all.

  35. 35
    Stooleo says:

    As I just started to write this post my little doggie let out a soft pitiful groan. “Pay more attention to me” she said. Anyhow, there is a good National Geographic documentary on dogs and dog behavior.

  36. 36
    gex says:

    SPOILER – Emo post. Read at your own risk.

    Moved back into the house today. I’m going to try to sleep here alone tonight for the first time since January 2nd.

    I wish she had kept her promise to me to get an exam by September 2011.


  37. 37
    General Stuck says:


    Hang in there, Gex.

  38. 38
    Rand Careaga says:

    Daniel Dennett, a philosopher whose work I’ve followed and admired for many years, has written extensively on the phenomenon of consciousness, and on evolution by natural selection (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, largely devoted to the latter, includes an excellent chapter on the former, enlarging on ideas earlier set forth in the audaciously-titled Consciousness Explained). He once observed something to the effect that notwithstanding our close genetic kinship with the higher primates, it has been Canis lupus familiaris, the common dog, and not the chimps, bonobos or gorillas, that has been under intense selective pressure for the species’ last four thousand generations or so to understand human language. For at least 15,000 years, humanity has been the livelihood of the dog. Upon our toleration and goodwill the dog has relied, and these elements it has attempted to conduce after hard study. Market demographers may bring to bear more sophisticated tools to their assignments, but Rover has a good deal more fur in the game.

    Having had dogs in the household on and off for something like half my adult life, I’ve come to believe that language processing forms a part of this spectrum of observation, along with our tone (critical), our physical movements and stances (“body language”) and, doubtless, smells. I further believe that with regard to speech, dogs employ what amounts to a “language processing module” that they spin up at need. Dinner table conversation does not engage this module, and is probably perceived as background noise. Most of us adopt a distinctive tone when we address our dogs, and this spins up the module. With the dog’s attention now engaged, it processes and responds to important phrases. My own dog and his predecessors have all appeared to understand “Do you want to…” as a signal that an activity is proposed. If the end of that question is “go outside?” my dog will either move to the back door, should he wish to void his bladder or bowels or merely patrol the perimeter, or he will go to his pillow and look contrite, signaling that he does not wish to be parted from the main pack. If the end of the question is “go for a walk?” he will streak for the vestibule and prance. I have observed that if “Do…you…want…to…go…for…a…walk” is delivered in a monotone but with eye contact, the creature will look puzzled but won’t do the dance.

    He processes spoken inquiries regarding food with equal alacrity and attention. If he is dawdling on the way back from a walk, I have only to say “Happy Hips” (the brand name of a cherished treat) for him to pick up the pace. If a nice table scrap (beef or salmon) has been left for him in the kitchen, then “Treat in your bowl!” sends him trotting from the dining room in search of this dainty, whereas “Treat!” alone will cause him to sit in place (he has learned from experience that these morsels are only dispensed after his hindquarters hit the ground).

    A great deal of anthropomorphic claptrap has been written on this subject. I’ve attempted not to make extravagant claims here. The dog, incidentally, is Ravi, five years old, a German shepherd/husky mix and almost blindingly handsome.

  39. 39
    dance around in your bones says:

    @gex: Oh gex, I am so sympathetic – when my partner of 40+ years died I was out of the house we had shared within a week. I just couldn’t handle being there alone….

    I hope you fare better.

  40. 40
    Grover Gardner says:

    After owning many dogs over the years, my wife and I are pretty aware of the difference between certain dogs. Some are much smarter than others. At one point I owned a little German Shepherd mix who was, I swear, on the verge of speech. He obviously had a huge vocabulary and could get whereever he wanted to go regardless of the obstacles. We called him “Houdini dog.” During that same period we owned a pure-bred Germain Pointer–just a gorgeous dog we got at the pound–and that damn animal couldn’t even learn his own name. If you closed a door halfway he didn’t have the wits to push it open but just stood in the other room waiting for you to “reappear.” He was so dumb we gave him away to another couple, who some time later had their house robbed while the dog stood there and wagged his tale.

    My wife says some dogs have a soul and other dogs are “just dogs.” Not that “just dogs” are necessarily bad, but the difference is obvious to most dog owners.

  41. 41
    Nicole says:

    I think many animals can learn a limited number of words. When I was taking riding lessons, the instructors had to spell some words when going over some things with students, lest the horse think it was being requested to do something, do it, and terrify a beginner rider. For example, C-A-N-T-E-R. Tone had nothing to do with it.

  42. 42
    Rosie Outlook says:

    Some time back, I spoke to a cat I was pretty sure was lost. She hesitated. I blinked slowly at her, which is Felinese for “Hello, let’s be friends,” and she ran over with the relieved air of a lost traveler who finally found the only other English speaker in the Ulan Bator airport. She was a lovely guest, but, alas, not a stray; the owners were happy to get her back.

    Getting back to Lily and John, Stanley Coren’s “The Intelligence of Dogs” contains a canine-English bilingual dictionary that John may want to look at.

  43. 43
    Anne Laurie says:

    Standard dog-trainer figure is that most modern indoor, household dogs have a vocabulary of at least 50 to 100 words, depending on how much their people talk to them. The other rule of thumb is that your average American dog is as “smart” as an average three-year-old child… there are three-year-olds who can just about express their preferences for chicken nuggets over hamburgers, and other three-year-olds who can spell out the word extraordinary on their Elmo birthday card. At least one border collie has been ‘certified’ with a vocabulary of over a thousand words, based on being able to bring a specific toy from another room (no clever-hans cueing) when asked (even by people not his ‘owner’).

    Lily may not be as “intelligent” as Rosie, but she’s obviously got a higher E.Q. (emotional intelligence). Also, because she’s so submissive (and Rosie is not) you’ve probably underestimated Lily’s actual intelligence to some degree, since you interpret her instant cooperation as not being smart enough to give you backchat!

  44. 44
    JoyceH says:

    I don’t think it’s so much a matter of dogs understanding what we say. I think they can read our minds. Really, sometimes I’ll think hey, I should take the dog for a walk. And I swear I haven’t given any outward signals, haven’t yet put on the walking shoes, don’t have a regular walking time – but when I go into the living room, there’s Maggie by the door, all bright-eyed and eager. She just Knows.

  45. 45
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    I’ll ask a related question: Can smart people ever love as unconditionally as less smart people?

  46. 46
    Rand Careaga says:

    I might add that after her triumphant inculcation of the “heel” command, my wife has been working for years to have Ravi respond correctly to “go left” and “go right” (we have him off-leash whenever practical), and appears to have been largely successful in this. I’m not saying that non-verbal cues don’t figure into this, but the point is that systematic communication appears to be taking place. When we consider the dog’s perception of human language, it’s important to embed this in the continuum, the full spectrum, of the interaction.

  47. 47
    jenn says:

    Some dogs really are verbally-oriented. One of my parents’ dogs knew people’s names, object names, and relationship between them, so if my parents asked her to “find Jenn’s hat”, she would search until she found my hat, not just any hat. It was great – as long as Mom never set her keys down on a high shelf out of reach, she never had to worry about mislaying them!, since the dog would bypass Dad’s keys and grab hers, when asked.

  48. 48
    salsify says:

    @dexwood: Thanks for the comment, our Bouv is so protective of her rescued sister, especially as to male doggies who show interest! We couldn’t have, by happenstance, have found a better complement for the Bouv. They are a little bit jello of each other when it comes to mom and dad loving, but loyal and loving so long as each gets ear scratches and treats.

  49. 49
    22over7 says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    Love has nothing to do with IQ. Love is the only thing that makes this ridiculous pony ride worth it.

    Speaking of love, gex, we’re here.

  50. 50
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Wonder if you can get any of those CD language courses for dogs? Something like Teach Yourself Esperanto for dogs at $14.95.

    Rosetta Bone.

  51. 51

    They know. Trust me. I’m not called Mystical Chick for nothing! ;)

    And this comment from Lavocat? @Lavocat: cracked my shit up! That was priceless! (And true!)

    JC, love these emo posts!

    Gex … keep walking forward even when it’s hard (especially when it’s hard) – we’ll be here to help.

  52. 52
    muddy says:

    I really liked this book, Your Dog is Your Mirror by Kevin Behan The 2nd part of the book especially, it started out a little slow.

  53. 53
    Roger Moore says:


    I read that dogs understand about 600 words and cats understand even more.

    I knew somebody who had a good story about that. She had both a cat and several rottweilers, who were very well trained. The cat apparently figured out the dogs’ commands, because it knew that it was free to taunt the dogs however it felt after she had given them a command that required them to sit still. Proof that cats can understand the same as dogs, it’s just that their response to the knowledge is different.

  54. 54
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Rand Careaga:

    my wife has been working for years to have Ravi respond correctly to “go left” and “go right” (we have him off-leash whenever practical), and appears to have been largely successful in this.

    Hah, I’m dyslexic, and when my first dog & I were doing obedience competitions together, he was swifter at pivoting left or right on the judges’ command than *I* was! Unfortunately, he was too small (12lbs) to nudge me in the proper direction. You haven’t known humiliation until your dog swings left, you swing right, and when you correct yourself he’s giving the judge a “Well, I tried” expression…

  55. 55
    Rand Careaga says:

    @Anne Laurie: I’m not dyslexic, but I’ve always had a certain left/right vagueness except in politics, and to this day (I’m sixty) I still sometimes need to flex my dominant hand to remind myself of which is which.

  56. 56
    Raven says:

    Bodhi knows lots of words “Go, cow, mommy, what do you want, kitty, outside”, and other dogs names. Lil Bit knows “Cookie”.

    eta Bohdi tilts his head when you say many of his favorite words.

  57. 57
    Poopyman says:

    I just want to note that Jim Croce would have been 70 back on January 10. He went way too young, but that factoid is making me feel old all of a sudden.

  58. 58
    greylocks says:

    They understand words and short phrases. Whether they understand complete sentences, I’m not so sure. But for sure they attach meanings to words.

    Our oldest Australian Shepherd knows the difference between “Wendy’s” and “McDonald’s.” She gets excited when you ask her if she wants to go to McDonald’s but she gets about ten times more excited about going to Wendy’s. I can only imagine the food tastes or smells better to her. (I know it does to me.)

    I could provide many more examples of fairly refined distinctions. For example, they know the difference between “cookie” and “biscuit”, between “chicken” and “pork”, and between “tennis ball” and “frisbee”.

    One of our Aussies is quite vocal. We’ve come to believe that she is trying to imitate human speech. There’s really no other explanation for the behavior. It’s not whining or barking. She only does it when she seems to be trying to tell us something, and she only “talks” to her human servants, never to her fellow doggy overlords.

  59. 59
  60. 60
    muddy says:

    I like when a dog combines 2 words and gets another meaning, you can really see the lightbulb! Recent ones here were “squeaky ball”, he chose the right one out of 4 balls, he has another toy called squeaker as a hint. I did not give hints, just said the new combo a few times. Also there was “ride bath” when we were in the car wash. He was a little disturbed about it until I said that, and then I saw the lightbulb and he laughed. Probably thought, Better the car than me!

    I have a bell hanging from the back door knob, he is to ring the bell to signal he wants to go out. But he’ll ring it because it’s time for the cats’ can and he wants to lick it, or he thinks it ought to be bedtime by now, etc. If I ask him if he really wants to go out, he will avert his eyes when he’s lying. Dogs are notorious bad liars.

  61. 61
    handsmile says:

    Well, I would submit that this video pretty much definitively (and affirmatively) answers the question, “Do your dogs understand you when you talk to them?” Some may be disturbed by the evidence.

    ETA: Oops, forgot the crucial piece…

  62. 62
  63. 63
    Bobby Thomson says:

    The hedgehog has been hospitalized with a heart aneurysm.

  64. 64
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Testing: Raven is a douche…

  65. 65

    My cattle dog is smarter than I could ever be. Damn wily dingo. He has us trained. Right now I’m guarding the crock pot because he knocked the last one off of the counter and ate it all with help from the other 2.

  66. 66
    JCT says:

    @BGinCHI: I recently moved and discovered a trove of saved Gary Larsons cartoons all clipped from the SF Chronicle ( um, “Comical”) back in college. That one was one if them along with the classic one where the cat is trying to lure the dog into the clothes washer with a sign that said “Fud”. Had a lot of fun sharing them with my kids.

  67. 67
    Roger Moore says:

    @a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q):

    We need a Beware of Doug DougJ rotating tagline


    ETA: Also, too, Soonergrunt’s classic “Forget it Jake, it’s WordPress”

  68. 68
    muddy says:

    I’m feeling pretty excited over dogs today, on Friday morning we are going to pick up Sawyer’s new little sister. I keep telling him, but unlike a kid he does not ask if it is Friday yet. I know he will be thrilled, and also a little jealous. I love when the older dog shows how well he knows the commands to show up the stupid puppy. Give me the cookie, my ass slammed the floor in a millisecond!

  69. 69
    handsmile says:

    [and here it is…]

    Well, I would submit that this video pretty much definitively (and affirmatively) answers the question, “Do your dogs understand you when you talk to them?” Some may be disturbed by the evidence.

    ETA: aarrgghh…my sincere apologies if it’s preceded by an ad…

  70. 70
    muddy says:

    @handsmile: My dog talks to me like that, not the words, but the tone is perfect.

  71. 71
    Anne Laurie says:

    There’s also the variable that some dogs, like some people, enjoy learning stuff & being ‘the guy who knows’. Other dogs — even smart dogs — could not give a damn, unless it’s something they can use for their own ends. Papillons are usually smart, ‘willing’ dogs, but none of our current three rescues are much for obedience competition. Zevon will walk through the basic exercises, just for the chance to hang around a bunch of other dogs, but he’s an incorrigiable runaway and can’t be trusted off-leash except in a locked room. Sydney is actually excited by learning stuff, but he’s so terrified of strange dogs/people/situations that he can only show off his “knowingness” in private. And Gloria (who is actually a Pap cross, quite possibly part border collie) is hella smart about figuring stuff out — with or without our permission — but she bites when she’s ‘challenged’ so we don’t put her in situations where she might feel she had to demonstrate her autonomy on strange people or dogs…

  72. 72
    Rand Careaga says:

    @handsmile: A classic. I almost persuaded my 91 year-old father to accept an iPad on the basis of it.

  73. 73
    Roger Moore says:


    SPOILER – Emo post. Read at your own risk.

    You don’t need to apologize for being human. You’ve been through a hell of a lot, and we’re happy to serve as virtual shoulders to cry on.

  74. 74
    Davebo says:

    My PJ knows the following words (or phrases).

    1. Ride? (results in significant drool on the outside of the back doors)
    2. Walk (optional “on the leash”)
    3. Nana Chewy (don’t ask)
    5. Hop Up (as in on the couch, bed, chaise, etc.)
    6. Up Pup (see above)
    7. Were are my shoes? (see number 2)
    8. SQUIRREL!
    9. RABBIT! (both are very effective at getting him to go out back and give me a few minutes minus 125lb lab mix.)

    Words or phrases he absolutely knows but mostly ignores…

    1. Leave it!
    2. Settle!
    3. Nighty Night, Sleepy Sleep..
    4. NO!
    5. OFF!
    6. Heal!
    7. Don’t Beg!
    8. Git Off!
    9. Give me a square..(as in give me just a small area of my couch or chaise or bed to occupy)

    Though he certainly understands the words I’d say my body language is as much if not more understood.

    Anybody looking for a black lab/pony mix. 3 1/2 years or so. You can take him off my hands for just 1 pair of Cole Hahn shoes and I’ll throw in 30lbs of food in a nice plastic tub on wheels.

    But then you may have to take my wife too (she who threatened to kill me if I went to pick up that rescue dog)

  75. 75
    hildebrand says:

    Utterly off topic – we are looking for a second car. It must have very good gas mileage and not be horrifically expensive. Any suggestions? We would like to buy new.

  76. 76
    Maude says:

    Hi, Gex. I’d leave a light on so if you wake up, it’s not dark. In way, she’s around. You might sense her before you go to sleep. That, btw, is forever and always.
    I’m buying a nightlight tomorrow.

  77. 77
    Roger Moore says:

    No book collection is truly complete without The Complete Far Side. And yes, complete really means complete.

  78. 78
    J R in W Va says:

    We had a dog, long haired black mountain dog, named (step-aside) Clyde. He could talk for 45 minutes without repeating himself, and he understood everything we told him.

    The elder dog came down with Lymphoma, and when I took her on the last trip to the Animal Hospital, all the dogs were upset. When I got back, I had Annie’s collar, and sat down with the dogs on my lap, and talked about Annie, and how she wouldn’t be with us any more, but that she didn’t suffer any, and would be waiting for them in the Doggy heaven woods.

    Clyde was relieved, you could tell.

    Now we have two rescue dogs, neither is a genius like Clyde was, but they were both rescued, and they both know they were saved. Both really happy to be on the farm in the WV Hills.

    So, John, I know your critters love you, and understand more of what you say than anyone would credit. Hang in there, and love your fuzzy kids.

  79. 79

    @Rand Careaga:

    Upon our toleration and goodwill the dog has relied

    I always thought it was the other way around

  80. 80
    Raven says:

    @Rand Careaga: Look at that steed!

  81. 81
    Maude says:

    @Roger Moore:
    The horse hospital. What a wonderful book.

  82. 82
    Svensker says:


    Big hugs. You will get through it. Harder than heck, but you will do it.

  83. 83
    Rosie Outlook says:

    @gex: My condolences, and may God be with you and yours at this sorrowful time.

  84. 84
    Bmaccnm says:

    @Rand Careaga: Since a car wreck in which I removed a sunroof with my head and was unconscious for three days I have had the same left-right vagueness. I have the same problem with my legs. More than 20 years now, and I still have to become aware of my right hand to know how to move. I can’t dance, can’t fence, and sometimes get scrambled while walking for a mili-second or two. Weird.

  85. 85
    muddy says:

    My dad would gesture with one side and say the opposite word in the car. I don’t know why. It was always the hand that was correct, not the speech.

  86. 86
    Rosie Outlook says:

    @Anne Laurie: Did you hear about the dyslexic atheist who didn’t believe there was a dog?

  87. 87
    Todd says:

    My sweet old Groenendael Shepherd was really attuned to language, manners, and emotional states. He would always wait patiently for an invitation into the house when the door opened, would come quietly next to you if you were low, didnt nag, and seemed pretty attuned to the simple requests we had of him. He always could split up the names of everyone in the house – you could tell him to go see a specific person, and he’d follow through. He’d display a little confusion if you messed with him by calling him linoleum or petroleum (his name was the same as the little conqueror of France).

    God, I miss that dog – I really loved him.

  88. 88
    Patricia Kayden says:

    I think our dogs understand our tone of voice and emotions, but of course not what we are saying (unless it’s something simple like “sit”, “stay”, etc.).

    But Tunch on the other hand …

  89. 89
    Todd says:

    @Rand Careaga:

    Great looking dog, and a great story.

  90. 90
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Damn cat KNOWS what I’m saying, she’s just blithely ignoring it.

  91. 91
    PurpleGirl says:

    @gex: Depending on what time you go to sleep, remember that there are people here hanging out like until 2 and 3 in the morning. Often they need another voice for the conversation (such as it is at 2 and 3 in the morning). You can join it if you need to vent/rant or just say you need a hug.

    Wishing you peace and comfort tonight.

  92. 92
    TaMara (BHF) says:

    @J R in W Va: I’m so glad you said that because I was afraid I was the only one who was going to have such a comment.

    My beloved harlequin Great Dane, beautiful, smart girl that she was, about 2 years of living with me and my constant chatter, began talking to me. She’d hold long conversations, rambling on. Very unnerving if you know how close the timber of a Dane’s voice is to humans.

    Sometimes, when it was clear to her I was not getting what she was trying to tell me, she’d get all shrill and ‘talk’ faster. Kind of like some English speakers I know when trying to get someone of a different language to understand them.

    God, I miss that dog.

  93. 93
    TaMara (BHF) says:

    @Rand Careaga: One look at that beautiful dog’s eyes and you know he understands everything. I’m not positive, but I am pretty sure he’s directly connected to the divine.

  94. 94
    Suffern ACE says:

    I do think dogs can ubderstand that were trying to say something. I wonder if they find us funny or crude.

  95. 95
    Delia says:

    A few years back I was getting ready for an overseas trip to visit my son. It was a late summer day and I was out in the garden with my American Eskimo-cattle dog-yellow lab mix when my neighbor leaned over the fence to ask me about my trip. We were chatting for a while and she asked me what I was going to do with Pippin while I was gone. I started talking about the place I was boarding him. During the conversation Pippin got more and more agitated until he ripped a limb off a bush. Dogs may not understand the future tense, but he definitely understood talk of being sent away to be boarded and it didn’t please him.

  96. 96
    General Stuck says:

    O and dems have the wingnuts so flummoxed they don’t know whether to shit or go blind. Remember after the 2010 midterm, they were proud as peacocks and ready to slice and dice the New Deal and no one could stop them. Then the hostage taking and debt ceiling deal, and now they are just going to grin and bear it, cause everytime them parlay with Obama, they end up with pigs in a poke.

    In the House of Representatives, Republicans claim they’ve braced themselves to let the full force of the sequester hit government programs of all kinds on March 1, defense most directly, rather than compromise with Democrats to replace it with a mix of more thoughtful cuts and higher taxes.

    So instead of gutting SS and medicare benefits like they planned, they will stand silent, sucking their thumbs with the brilliant strategy of doing nothing, and watch while their vaunted military funding goose gets cooked. Wolverines!! indeedy.

  97. 97
    Delia says:

    @TaMara (BHF):

    In the last couple of years my Pippin, who just turned fourteen, has started “talking” to me. He does this back of the throat vocalizing that northern sled dogs are prone to do, especially if I’ve just come home from being gone several hours, or if he thinks it’s high time to do something like a walk. I feel like he’s trying to imitate human language.

    I feel lucky to have had him as long as I have, and intend to cherish however much time we have remaining.

  98. 98
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @Anne Laurie: Is there an update on the Durham doggie? I’ve been erratic in my visits here. Thank you for posting the notice.

  99. 99
    Suffern ACE says:

    @General Stuck: ok. But they’re probably thinking the economy will suck and blame will go to dems.
    Anyway, if these cuts aren’t sensible, and could be replaced by more sensible cuts, could we just take all of our elected officials outside and spank them? The timing is bad for these cuts, sure, but why are these specific cuts clowny?

  100. 100
    melissa says:

    If I remember correctly, Linguists call this communication rather than language. It encompasses (1) the response to (meanings of) certain words (sit),(2) the reaction to the sounds and vocal intonations, and (3) encompasses to the actions of the human.

    My previous dog would hear me say “walk”, go to the door and then lie down. He had learned that I spent five minutes looking for keys, changing my shoes, putting something in the fridge. I’m not organized and he accustomed himself to it.

  101. 101
    mclaren says:

    Simple. Ask Lily and Rosie what’s the Taylor series expansion for an exponential function at a=0. Tell ’em you’ll give ’em a treat if they get it right.

  102. 102
    jibeaux says:

    Funny story, my 7 y.o. (human) typed up a love note to the dog and left it in his bed. I read it to him after explaining it probably wasn’t too meaningful as is. Later, he chewed up some plastic toy she’d left on the floor. She bemoaned his disloyalty after she wrote him a love letter. I told her it just didn’t really get through to him, and she said “but you READ it to him!”

  103. 103
    Anne Laurie says:

    @a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q):

    Is there an update on the Durham doggie?

    She’s going to visit a prospective couple (& their dog) on Friday. I’ve asked SarahB to take pics if she can, but either way, there will be an update post this weekend!

  104. 104
    Scamp Dog says:

    @greylocks: My border collie does that. Or at least she has this special vocalization that’s neither bark nor growl, sort of a long “ooowwwrrr” that occasionally segues into a bark. She’s definitely “saying” it to me, and it’s more or less, “come on, let’s go for a walk, how about it?” She doesn’t do it with the neighbors who take her while I’m out of town. Apparently I need extra instruction and encouragement.

  105. 105
    Mike in DC says:

    I could swear that my cat Pounce (may his furry soul rest in peace) could understand me, but his sister probably couldn’t.

    I remember once I got home late, the stores were closed, and I had very little crunchy food for my two cats. I poured the remaining food into one bowl, and Pounce started eating. After a moment, I told him that he had to share his food with his sister because that was the end of the food. After a gulp or two more, he moved away from the bowl, and sat down, letting his sister eat. It was the most amazing thing I ever saw.

    He wasn’t particularly bright, but I’ll go to my grave believing that cat understood me when I spoke to him.

  106. 106
    Suzanne says:

    Shit, I had a Husky that didn’t just know words, she’d talk back. Her Husky talking sounded remarkably like the intonation of a teenager whining to get a ride to the mall. That dog was a pain in the ass.

  107. 107
    catclub says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Yes.
    As an analogy, people who know a lot about music still love it and are emotionally affected by it, even though they know how it works and what techniques are being used.

  108. 108
    Tony the Wonderhorse says:

    Rupert Murdock says dogs can read our minds, and has evidence to back it up

    Seriously, Google him on YouTube (what a weird sentence)

  109. 109
    Rand Careaga says:

    @TaMara (BHF): OK, just one more.

    God, but I’m besotted with the creature.

  110. 110
    J R in W Va says:

    @TaMara (BHF):

    We live in the woods, away from any town at all, so our dogs are free to roam the ridges and hillsides of southern W Va. Clyde would roam the neighborhood for a couple of hours every morning, to see that everything was to suit him.

    One day he didn’t come back. It was early last spring, before the spring flush of foliage. So I walked the hills for several hours a day, looking for him. If he had gotten trapped or stuck he would have yelped and carried on. So we were pretty sure he had a heart attack or stroke or some such killer event.

    Some weeks later, one of the young dogs brought home a skull, and it was Clyde’s, I could tell from the chipped front canine tooth. I still have it, to remember him by. I will never forget him, he was the smartest dog I ever have known.

    Clyde, the WV Black Mountain dog. He was so furry he dreamed about winter, and when it snowed he would go on the back porch and run his face into the snow, and roll in it. In the winter, he never really wanted to come in, because human temps were too warm for him. He would come in at bed time, when we turned the lights off, and go back out as soon as we woke in the AM.

    In the summer, he would come in when he heard the AC compressor kick on, and lay on the cold air duct for relief from the lowlands heat. The minute he heard the AC he was on the floor vent, letting the cool air blow across his shaved chest. When we clipped him in the spring, he lost 20 lbs of pelt!!

    What a dog, a real brother to all of us. Step-aside Clyde, the Wonder Dog!

    I hope everyone who likes dogs gets at least one like Clyde!

  111. 111
    TaMara (BHF) says:

    @Rand Careaga: Now I am positive. He knows all the secrets of the universe.

  112. 112
    khead says:

    My wife speaks fluent “spoiled cat”, but I’m pretty that when I talk to them it’s like Ginger the dog.

  113. 113
    wasabi gasp says:

    I’m just winging it with her meow meows.

  114. 114
    TaMara (BHF) says:

    @J R in W Va: There is always that one, isn’t there? Steals your heart and you know no other dog, no matter how special they are, will match them.

  115. 115
    Amir Khalid says:

    I have a cat who outsmarts me more often than I care to admit.

    There’s a story in yesterday’s The Star (my old paper) and picked up by Reuters about the mysterious poisoning of pygmy elephants in Sabah state. So far, 13 have died since December 29. Warning: a heartbreaker of a picture goes with the story: a very young elephant trying to wake its mother up.

  116. 116
    Rand Careaga says:

    @melissa: “Communication.” I believe you’ve nailed it. Extraordinary, nevertheless, how richly layered the exchange of information there is between the descendants of an aggressive, highly territorial primate and an opportunistic, pack-based predator.

    Considering how dreadfully we humans behave toward the other species with whom we share the planet, it’s a source of wonder to me that the dogs actually like us. It’s sort of like (if I may trespass against Godwin’s Law in a wildly different context) having our own French collaborators as we conduct our sundry atrocities upon the rest of creation.

  117. 117
    dance around in your bones says:

    Well, I had a dog that only had to hear the word “bath” and she would go into a cringing “OMG gotta hide!” kinda fit.

    So I think she had a few words down.

  118. 118
    Mnemosyne says:


    I’m pretty sure my mom is still sleeping in the guest room in their house because she can’t bring herself to sleep in the bed she shared with my dad. I suspect she’s going to end up selling the bed and getting a new one with no memories in it.

  119. 119
    Diana says:

    some of our pets do understand. When I was living with my brilliant cat Coco in a garden apartment with a cat door to the outside, after I lost my job Coco brought me prey (sparrow, field mouse, squirrel) every *single* day until I got another job. Somehow my cat knew I was worried about how to provide for our little household, and she pitched in to the best of her ability. Obviously her dead sparrows didn’t help pay the rent, but the fact that she cared enough to try really kept me going.

  120. 120
    General Stuck says:

    @Suffern ACE:

    But they’re probably thinking the economy will suck and blame will go to dems

    This sequester shit was the wingnuts idea in thinking they could bluff Obama into gutting new deal programs. They found out different, and now are floundering like beached crappies and depending on the same entitlement they are used to with the public and media to demagogue the debt, and pay no price.

    And the election proved the rope has run out to a large degree and they are about to have their bullshit affect real lives and jobs, and a blow to the economy. All Obama and dems have to do is what they have been doing with balanced common sense proposals of tax and spend, with openness to compromise, and there is just no where else for the repubs to run. It’s put up or shut up time, and it sounds like they are just going to stick their heads in the sand, and hope their whiteness gives them the usual breaks. We shall see about that.

  121. 121
    dance around in your bones says:


    On this topic – nowadays I sleep on the side of the bed I always slept on (the outside edge, because I always had to get up in the night to pee more than my partner) – even though back in the day I used to LOVE it on the rare occasion when I had the bed to myself and would triumphantly sleep smack in the middle of the bed JUST BECAUSE I COULD!

    I mean – I could sleep in the middle of the bed every dang night now, but here I am huddled on one edge. WTF.

    It’s funny/weird how stuff changes. I still wish I had him around so I could get annoyed at his snoring. That used to drive me crazy.

    Anyway, I am watching Colbert at the moment so nobody feel sorry for me. Except that Bill Gates is his guest, gah.

  122. 122
    kc says:


    Ha, a classic! First thing I thought of too.

    Of course, I do think some dogs really do understand more than we give them credit for.

  123. 123
    Original Lee says:

    One of our dogs was so scary smart that we could give him full sentence commands, as in “Go to the living room and bring me the ball.” We have many stories of scams he pulled in order to get food or the best place to sit in the room. Once, he got into a box of donuts that was sitting on the counter and not only ate them all without moving the box significantly but also remembered to close the lid afterwards.

    He always understood what we said. I called him a daft hound in a fit of exasperation once, and he promptly let me know that he considered this an insult and went off to sulk (no other word for it, really) for almost two days. I had to go apologize before he would resume his normal duties and routine. I never called him that again, and he never sulked again, either.

  124. 124
    Gex says:

    Couldn’t do it yet. Staying with a friend tonight and tomorrow night. Then a weekend at a cabin. I’m going to try again Sunday night. I hope I can. If not, it may be that I will never sleep there again.

    This is all so unreal. There’s a horrible sense of being alone, having lost her. Even with the great support I’ve gotten IRL and here, this is just a thing you go through alone. And with half of yourself missing.

  125. 125
    J R in W Va says:

    We used to give our first dog, Muffin (short for Ragamuffin, a small and uninteresting demon, look it up!) a bath before we took her on a trip in the car.

    One day she was just too ripe for coexistence, and so wife gave her a bath without a trip. She was pissed! When wife would speak to her, Muffin would stand up, dramatically turn her back to wife, and sit back down.

    The clearest example of wordless rejection I have ever seen. It was several days before she would let either of us near her.

    She too disappeared into the forest one afternoon. The young dog we got for her to run with was missing for about 36 hours, and was very subdued when she came home. We knew she had stayed with Muffin until she was sure Muffin was gone, and not coming back.

    It’s hard to lose them like that, and it’s hard to take them to the Vet that last time too. But our dogs are free dogs, able to roam our farm and hills, so sometimes that is what happens to them.

  126. 126
    wasabi gasp says:

    My cat’s pretty smart. Sometimes she’ll dart out of a room, then dart right back in faster than light just to see if she’s still there.

  127. 127
    Mnemosyne says:


    Can you get a friend to stay with you at the house for a few days so you don’t have to be alone?

    And, in case you needed to hear it, it’s totally normal to feel that way. As soon as my father-in-law died, my mother-in-law moved back into her sister’s house and never spent another night in his apartment.

    (That was partly because their relationship was complicated and it really was his apartment that she had moved into, not their apartment, but she couldn’t stand to stay there by herself.)

  128. 128
    ihop says:

    sorry, i was out drinking tonight and missed all of this, and if what i say was said, well then…

    i have known many quadro-pedal-critters as part of my life. some are focused only on themselves. some have seen me and what i do for them as part of the equation of their lives.

    and then there was the monkey dog. he was a jack russell terror who started out as simple as could be and by the end of his 14 year time on this planet figured out more complex politics and intra-organismic relationships than any one i have been blessed to know.

    ah sleep calls me now…

  129. 129
    Mnemosyne says:

    @dance around in your bones:

    I was looking around here for you right after gex’s Kate passed, because I’m pretty sure you’re the person who’s had the most similar experience to what she’s dealing with since you also had a partner/spouse die. I can empathize, but there’s a big difference between having a older parent with a lot of health problems die and having a partner die.

  130. 130
    Or something like that.Suffern Ace says:

    @General Stuck:

    Ok I finally found what I was looking for. Tom Harkin at least put out a clear report on what is being cut outside of defense. Those defense cuts – who knows what they are, but apparently since our military is broadcasting to the world that we are going to be too weak to invade Barbados, I’m guessing that they are lying. (If we were that weak, why on earth would we say so out loud).

    While none of these cuts are pleasant, I’m still trying to figure out what would be more sensible or common sense. I keep reading that sensible word. I’m assuming it means eliminating food stamps, but I’m not certain.

  131. 131
    Mnemosyne says:

    Speaking of smart animals, our cats get a treat of wet food at 9:30 pm every night.

    At 9:29 pm, Keaton came over and started chirping at me to make sure I didn’t forget. When the reminder alarm went off at 9:30, he dashed for his plate.

    Yes, Keaton is a cat who can tell time. He gets messed up for a week or two when we switch to or from Daylight Saving Time, but I get confused about that, too. As G always says, Keaton is the only cat he’s ever met who gets frustrated by the limitations of being a cat because there’s so much more he can do than an ordinary cat.

  132. 132
    dance around in your bones says:


    Well, you are right that it is different – my father, who had been perfectly healthy at age 80 – until the day he went to play tennis (as he had all his life) and had a stroke at the net is now in a care home and it’s like a slow death instead of a certain one. I’m not sure which is better – in a way I’m kind of glad my husband went out quick even though it hurts me…..the lingering on and on thing is hard, too.

    In any case, I totally sympathize with gex – it’s the alone thing that gets you, feeling like you’re missing part of your heart.

  133. 133
    General Stuck says:

    @Or something like that.Suffern Ace:

    I would guess that sensible means that no one looses their job in a particular politicians district, or a particular favored contractor loses largess for making 300 dollar patriotic hammers. As these were made as across the board, I doubt anyone knows the full impact, if much, that will occur. The wingnuts were so certain they could fleece Obama, they didn’t bother to get specific. Since republicans are more connected and prolific in doling out cash to the military, it was doubly stupid of them to agree with this deal.

  134. 134
    Mnemosyne says:

    @dance around in your bones:

    We were lucky with my dad — even though he had multiple health problems that should have laid him out flat (COPD, cancer, and kidney failure) he kept going on sheer willpower. His friends were shocked when he died because they had just seen him at his carving club the week before Christmas, and he was still driving himself to dialysis two weeks before he died.

    He would have hated being bedridden and helpless, so I think he was ready to go when his body let him down that final time.

    ETA: Also, I am completely convinced that, through sheer force of will, he kept himself alive until 2013 so we wouldn’t have to deal with complicated taxes for 2012. Because that’s exactly the kind of thing that was really important to him (he broke away from the family business and struck out on his own, so he always had to do things his way).

  135. 135
    scav says:

    not much bothered, but I would rather like the next and previous post links on the bottom and top as they once were. Use both the recent posts and recent comments links as conversations can get involved and multi-threaded and sometimes I’m looking for specific commenters. Wouldn’t know what to do without FYWP to blame for some of more creative blunders, actually.

    ETA but as always, prefer simple clean and fast.

  136. 136
    Random User Name says:

    Hey, Cole, all due respect and all that, but after reading this post I felt like I had just been caught looking into my neighbor’s bedroom window.

    Only half kidding, but new tag needed: “Dog Porn”

  137. 137
    ulee says:

    jack russells are smart, much smarter than your average republican. Rosie knows what’s going on. I have a jack russell mix and she is very intelligent and interactive. That’s not to say that all dogs are not. But you’ve got your intelligent dogs and you’ve got your dogs who are as dumb as a brick. God love ’em all.

  138. 138
    dance around in your bones says:

    @Mnemosyne: What’s a carving club? Like whittling? Or did they carve up turkeys?

    Gah – as we all get older, we have to deal with so much loss. It is just….hard.

    Many condolences on the death of your dad. My dad can’t speak anymore, it’s just gibberish. I don’t know if he realizes it or not – I think HE thinks he makes perfect sense. I call him and sing songs to him, since we all (in the family) liked to sing. Cripes.

    eta: I don’t mean to be gloomy or glib – it’s been a hard year for me and mine. I could go on, but I won’t.

  139. 139
    Sirkowski says:

    It’s the superficial charm of the psychopath.

  140. 140
    Ellyn says:

    My dog, Louis, is really smart. I’m pretty sure he understands a lot of what I say to him. Every night at about 9PM I hide a greenie dental bone for him. He finds it 95% of the time by listening intently from upstairs while I hide it downstairs. He’s a parti-poodle (toy).

  141. 141
    muddy says:

    @Mnemosyne: My paternal Nana lost her husband, and because she didn’t have him around to mind and correct and boss around anymore, she didn’t know what to do with herself. She retired to her bed, and gave my mom $5 to give the priest to say a mass for her death.

    My mother (devout) was shocked, she said, Nana you can’t tell God what to do! Nana stated (shouted), “I can and I will!” And thumped the size of her fist on the bedside table.

    2 days later she was gone, and she didn’t really have serious health issues. Of course this turned to family lore about Nana telling god what to do, and he minded her right quick., because she was a real badass.

  142. 142
    Tim I says:

    John, you are becoming totally irrelevant to what is going on on this blog. You have become narcissistic beyond words.

    I used to look forward to what you had to say. Sadly, I think the site works better without you. You don’t seem to be clued into what people are writing about. It’s all about your little world.

  143. 143
    Jewish Steel says:

    They understand every word we say.

  144. 144
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Tim I:
    There are 140 comments on this thread preceding yours. Most of them are on the post topic. This refutes your contention.

  145. 145
    Jewish Steel says:

    @Amir Khalid: Yeah, god forbid a writer make a personal connection with his audience by sharing details from his life. That would be crazy!

  146. 146
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Jewish Steel:

    They understand every word we say.

    Heck, you live with basenjis. They even understand the words you don’t say!

  147. 147
    Jewish Steel says:

    @Anne Laurie: And like you, they are Animists. I’m sure you’d all get on like a house afire.

  148. 148
    Fred says:

    I haven’t had time to read all of the above comments but the recurring idea of ‘tone of voice’ keeps comming up. I’m convinced that body language is what dogs read. Voice comes from our bodies but it’s all a package including our posture, gestures, relative position to the dog and where/how on their bodies we touch them or let them touch us. Our attitude and intent direct our unconcious comunication.
    My wife and I have been home breeding golden retrievers(one litter at a time every year or so, no puppy mill here) for 25+ years. We thought we had a pretty good handle on handling our dogs until we came across Cesar Millan’s show “The Dog Whisperer”.
    Millan really has an understanding of dog communication and dog social understanding. That is the key, understanding dogs in terms of the pack and how we fit into their social order. We can’t teach dogs to understand how we think but we can learn how they think.
    The only problem I have with Millan’s show is that it is oriented to problem fixing instead of laying a productive groundwork from the start. I understand that conflict resolution makes for interesting TV but it requires a lot of sifting to get to a workable understanding of the basic philosophy behind it all.
    We have been trying to use Millan’s approach and have found we have happier better mannered dogs. But it is a job for sure. But since dogs and humans are both social animals we do tend to understand each other if we give it a chance.
    p.s. I’ve seen a few posts on the internet deriding Mr. Millan as being abusive to dogs. While nobody is perfect I have to say that I don’t know what these people are talking about. A judiciously directed finger poke or tap with a toe and a “shhh” sound is not abuse or even punishment. It is a way to redirect the dog’s attention useing a human version of the kind of communication that dogs learn from momma dog in the puppy box.
    p.p.s. I know I sound like an advocate but I have no connection with Cesar Millan.

  149. 149
    Joy says:

    I just lost the love of my life, my Golden Retriever Abby on Sunday. She has been in the Balloon Juice calendar every year. I know that she understood me and talked to me. I knew exactly what she wanted when she barked, stomped her feet, and did her “Chewbacca” growl. She knew what I meant when I asked her questions. I swear she was learning Spanish along with me because I talked to her in Spanish. Dogs are the greatest (cats are too, just not in the same way. My cat is very independent) and the unconditional love they give you is immeasurable.

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    lectric lady says:

    Late again to the party, but if you want lots of excellent information about animal communication, check out Patricia McConnell

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    Stentor says:

    My kittycat Sneakers & I have this ritual before I go to sleep & after I go to bed where he’ll come up to me, let me pet him in which I proceed to rub & gently tug at his face, ears, jowls, neck jawline, & jaw with the fingers of both hands. He purrs loudly, trills when I hit a good spot, the kitty equivalent of screaming for joy from what I can determine. Then when he’s ready, he’ll signal to me to stop by getting to his feet, to which I’ll gently grab him, & pull him close to me. He goes limp because he knows what’s coming, I kiss him a few times or more depending on my affection level all around the face & ears, to which he purrs & trills some more, then I let him go. He knows that signals the end of the cleaning ritual because he’ll go & lay down next to me somewhere on the bed, usually with his butt parked up next to me. Then he’ll clean himself some more before he settles down for the night. We’ve been doing this for years, & I think it genuinely promotes bonding between us, he sees me as his mama/papa kitty, the one with ten tongues on my hands. I’ve groomed him like this when I’m sitting on the couch watching TV, & it’s so funny to see the look on his face, he’ll get all dreamy-eyed & start acting like a sleepy kitten, grooming himself with his paws. But I know he adores it. If you want to see a picture of him, he’s on the January page of this years calendar, a little to the right of dead-center, looking up expectantly at the camera.

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    semlyng says:

    @Roger Moore:

    A few years ago my sister and her husband adopted a puppy and a kitten within a month of each other. My sister — who only had experience with cats prior to getting the puppy — is now convinced that dogs are “Gryffindor” and cats are “Slytherin.” The kitty *loves* to tease the dog.

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    dance around in your bones says:

    @Stentor: Jeez, what a sweet description of a cat/slave /human relationship.

    I’m not being snarky, I have shared my life with(served)many cats, so I know what you are talking about. I love the realization that in a way you have to mimic the mother/kitty interaction. After all, it’s what they experienced from birth – if they were lucky enough to have mommy cat around long enough.

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    Paul in KY says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Physical brain size is not the be-all & end-all of measuring intelligence. Tom Thumb had a small brain, but was quite intelligent.

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    alhutch says:

    Dogs that have been historically expected to operate independently of their owners (like many terriers, border collies, etc) to accomplish tasks seem to be pretty smart.

    I know the “stare” as well. My Fox Terrier is smart and very hard headed. Can be a frustrating combo sometimes, because I know he knows what I want, he is just choosing to ignore (cue the ‘stare’) until I make it very clear I am serious.

    Fun story. My wife taught him to ring a bell hanging on the back door to signal he wanted to go outside for potty. In no time at all, this bell was being abused to get us up off the couch to play. Now it is only rung in anger (he rings it really hard) when he feels he is being ‘ignored’.

    I didn’t realize I could end up with a bratty child in a dog’s body, but I still wouldn’t trade him for the world.

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