Skip to main content

Scarlett chills with one of her many frisbees.
In my previous diary, I wrote about research (pdf alert) in which dogs have demonstrated remarkable levels of lexical comprehension, which raises interesting questions about the extent to which language-acquisition abilities long considered uniquely human (or at least uniquely primate) may not actually be exclusive to humans or even to primates after all. Pilley and Reid (2011) report that in a series of experiments, a border collie named Chaser consistently demonstrated her understanding of the connection between words and their referents and even interpreted human grammatical structures to make meaning.

Most intriguing (to me, anyway) is what Chaser’s achievements add to existing knowledge about canine understanding of categories. Earlier research suggests that dogs have this ability, but Chaser is the first to offer evidence that a dog can use human words to categorize things (as opposed to visual or non-linguistic auditory stimuli). As I wrote in my previous diary, Chaser understands the word toy to mean any one of the 1,022 things she is allowed to play with (and has individual names for) and recognizes the words ball and frisbee as names for mutually exclusive subcategories to each of which some of the toys belong (by virtue of their being spherical and bouncy for the former or having “disk-like qualities” for the latter), each with its own individual and distinct name.

As Pilley and Reid note:

By forming categories represented by common nouns, Chaser mapped one label onto many objects. Chaser also demonstrated that she could map up to three labels onto the same object without error. Experiment 1 demonstrated that Chaser knew the proper-noun names of all objects used in this study. Chaser also mapped the common noun ‘toy’ onto these same objects. Her additional success with the two common nouns ‘ball’ and ‘Frisbee’ demonstrates that she mapped a third label onto these objects. (192)
Here's my attempt at a visual representation of Chaser's understanding of categories:
Pilley and Reid report that in monthly tests of her vocabulary over a period of three years, Chaser consistently scored 95% or higher on tasks to show that she recognized and could accurately distinguish among the 1,022 distinct combinations of sounds (i.e. words) that she had learned as names of objects and that she had “no difficulty in discriminating between the many different sounds of the nouns given to her as names for objects” (194, my emphasis).

Much of the discourse surrounding the research with Chaser and other studies in dog linguistics has focused on the lexical: the extent to which the dogs understand words. But in spoken language, words are just combinations of sounds, specifically speech sounds (realizations of phonemes) that in combination become distinct and meaningful. But as we’ve seen, the phoneme is not a discrete, static thing but is fluid, variable, and relational [1], as are the ways in which speakers (and apparently non-speakers, including dogs) come to understand them.

Where all this is going for me is in two directions, both of which lead eventually — at least in my head — back to The Phoneme and the Many Lives It Has Destroyed, with The Phoneme functioning simultaneously in its more or less literal linguistic-terminology sense as well as in a somewhat more metaphorical sense. These two directions have to do with:

1. how sentient beings, including people and dogs, associate speech sounds with particular and distinct meanings; and

2. how we (again, people and dogs) conceptualize categories, relations among their constituents as well as across boundaries, and the boundaries themselves.

So, can dogs predict phonemic splits?

Considering the mercurial nature of The Phoneme (and of attempts to define it), alongside the ways in which we (people and, it turns out, dogs) use categories to make sense of things and language to help define them, got me wondering about whether dogs might be sensitive in ways that humans may not be with respect to phonological variation among speakers, and if so, what that might mean about their possible perceptions of sound changes in progress.

In my recent exploration of The Phoneme, I note that one way of conceptualizing it — as a (discrete) unit of sound — is complicated by the rest of its definition, that it is a class of speech sounds that a native speaker will identify as the same sound. An “individual” phoneme, then, is actually a category containing multiple sounds, somewhat like (although it is far from a perfect analogy) Chaser’s categories toy, ball, and frisbee, the first of which contains not only the other two (as well as everything the categories ball and frisbee respectively contain) but another nearly 900 words in addition. Toy also functions to distinguish for Chaser what she is allowed to play with from what is off-limits, or not-toy.

Similarly, the thing we call a phoneme is a category that contains qualitatively similar but not identical sounds that, despite their variability, native speakers of a language will interpret as "close enough" to one another so as to be (more or less) interchangeable without affecting meaning. In other words, the differences among those similar-but-not-identical sounds can be ignored. The 26 objects that Chaser knows as members of the class frisbee are not identical to one another, but if Chaser is anything like my border collie, Scarlett, she is probably willing to ignore the differences because all frisbees are good frisbees simply by virtue of their being frisbees –- flying discs that are fun to run after and catch spectacularly -- unless she is directed to select a particular frisbee for which she has learned a unique name.

My girl Scarlett has a large collection of frisbees of various materials (e.g. canvas, plastic, rubber) and different colors. She doesn’t seem to care which one she plays with, as long as someone will throw it for her. (Quinn, our Australian shepherd, on the other hand, has developed a distinct preference for the firm but flexible plastic Hyperflite Jawz Hyperflex™ brand frisbees [2], although he has not signed any endorsement deal that I am aware of, so this shout-out is on the house.) While it is sometimes possible for member-sounds (i.e. variant realizations or allophones) within a category or class of sounds (i.e. a phoneme) to sound less like some of the other members of its own class and more like sounds considered to be members of other classes, it seems much less likely that any frisbee could have more in common with any ball than with other frisbees. Based on her past behavior, I think there is pretty much no chance that Scarlett will bring back a ball when she is instructed to “go get the frisbee.” She’s never done that. She always brings back a frisbee.

The apparently essential (to Scarlett, at least) frisbee-ness of flying discs notwithstanding, all categories — linguistic and otherwise — are going to be arbitrary to some extent. One of my favorite linguistic examples of this arbitrariness is the way certain realizations of speech sounds are considered members of separate categories (different phonemes) on the basis of qualities that are language-specific, such as the quality in English that distinguishes [i] (the vowel in seat) from [Ι] (vowel in sit): the so-called tenseness (in the case of [i]) or laxness (in the case of [Ι]) of the vowel, a quality that is phonemic in English but noncontrastive in Spanish, in which [i] and [Ι] are close enough for speakers to ignore the differences between them.

So, what does all this have to do with whether dogs can predict phonemic splits? Well, since Pilley and Reid present good evidence that dogs have the cognitive ability to determine and comprehend categories and that they can even understand and interpret language (in the form of meaningful combinations of human speech sounds) to do so, I am wondering about whether they understand phonemic categories in the same ways that human speakers do. Would a dog who grew up in an English-speaking household interpret a meaning distinction between sit and seat? Or would a dog who has been responding since puppyhood to the human-articulated instruction to “sit!” by doing just that hear the two words as close enough phonemically (and/or semantically) to respond the same way to an instruction to “seat!”? Would a dog raised in a Spanish-speaking family to come running when given the instruction “ven!” (come!) -- pronounced [ben], which is roughly similar to the English word bane -- respond in the same way to an American English-accented version of the same command that sounds like [vεn]? [3]

In Spanish, [b] and [v] (and also [β], although it is less commonly articulated at the beginning of a word) are allophones -- variant realizations -- that belong to the same class of sounds, namely the phoneme [b]. In many varieties of Spanish, word-initial v is often pronounced [b] and rarely [v]. In English, [b] and [v] are two distinct classes of speech sounds (and words spelled with v are always pronounced [v] and not [b] by native speakers). The difference between [b] and [v] is thus phonemic in English, which can be demonstrated by considering a minimal pair like ban and van. Since the only difference between ban and van in terms of sound is in the initial consonant of each word, the difference in meaning – in English, ban and van are of course distinct words with different meanings – shows that the initial consonants are members of different classes of speech sounds, which is another way of saying that they are phonemically distinct.

In Spanish, the difference between [e] and [ε] is also not phonemic; both sounds are allophones (variant realizations) of [e]. In English, however, the distinction between [e] and [ε] is phonemic, as evidenced by the meaning difference between the English words main [me:n] and men [mεn].

The other day, my husband and I were talking about whether dogs can distinguish between variant pronunciations of unstable sounds like [æ], the vowel that is more or less usual in American English pronunciations of the word cat but which is highly unstable (i.e., variable) in American English, partly as a result of the Northern Cities Shift (NCS), a set of apparently interrelated changes in vowel pronunciations. The epicenter of NCS is the Great Lakes region, where we have lived since 2004 after having spent most of our respective lives at various points along the east coast, from Florida (me) to Virginia (him) to Washington, D.C., North Carolina, and Georgia (both of us).

Even after nine years in Michigan, the differences between NCS and non-NCS pronunciations are still so salient to my ears that NCS speakers sound to me like they are articulating a different phoneme from the one I use to pronounce words with the [æ] sound. To me, their pronunciations of cat sound like [kejæt] (‘KAYat’) or [kiæt] (‘KEEat’), with the [æ] raised noticeably (to me, anyway) as well as tensed and diphthongized. This is very different from my pronunciation, which has a slightly backed [æ] that is also low in contrast to their raised version. My pronunciation is farther back than [æ], sounding more like the low-central [a] than a full-on low-front [æ]. Native Michiganders with NCS features in their own speech who hear the difference (and they don’t all hear it) describe my low-central pronunciation as sounding to them more like [kat] and articulate something that sounds like [kɑt] ('kaht') when they try to imitate it.

Examples of possible NCS pronunciations of 'cat'.
Of course, the word cat is important to a healthy young dog like Scarlett, and it is one of many words she knows and a member of a subset whose referents she finds incredibly interesting. Sometimes when we see our neighbor’s cat through the enormous picture window in our living room, my husband or I will say to her, “Where’s the cat?” Scarlett will immediately report to the window, stand at attention with her paws on the sill, and visually lock on to the cat with the laser beam that is her famous border collie stare. In the course of our conversation the other day, I said out loud something I think a few hundred times a day: “At what point does this become a completely different sound, with a completely different meaning? I mean, it already sounds that way to me." To illustrate, I then said, in my best simulated NCS pronunciation, with a highly exaggerated version of a raised, tensed, diphthongized, and lengthened [æ], “CAT.”

Scarlett, who had been napping on the kitchen floor, immediately jumped up, dashed to the living room window, snapped to attention with her paws on the window sill, and looked for the cat.

You may be thinking that this incident does not bode well for my hypothesis that dogs may be able to predict phonemic splits since it was clear that Scarlett completely disregarded what to me is a highly salient pronunciation difference that I can’t believe is not going to end up phonemically distinct sooner or later in American English. Fair enough. I would point out, though, that Scarlett has lived in Michigan for four years, since the age of 16 weeks (and she came from a rescue in northern Ohio), so she is as good as native to the region.

I will acknowledge that this anecdote, while charming, is nowhere near enough evidence to go on. But this post is getting long, so I will just say that in light of Scarlett’s enthusiastic response to my NCS articulation of cat (and the complete disregard it reveals on her part for what I consider a substantial difference from my usual pronunciation), it may be that dogs cannot predict phonemic splits, that they may not be any more sensitive to slight (cough) pronunciation differences than people are. However, we should remember that even American dogs are native speakers not of American English but of barking, growling, yelping, yipping, tail-wagging, and other vocal and nonvocal means of expression that categorically do not include American English or any other human language.

The other night I did another little experiment with Scarlett and found that she will respond to my instruction "besos!" (Spanish for kisses) exactly as she does when I say "kisses!" (i.e. by running over to me and licking the tip of my nose four or five times in rapid succession). I think maybe all those alveolar fricatives (and I hear myself definitely devoicing the one on the end of kisses, just as the one on the end of besos is voiceless in Spanish) and similar prosody in my pronunciation of both words in the context of giving her that particular instruction are all she needs to hear to figure out what she’s being asked to do. It might also help that she and I don’t have any other commands that have a similar combinations of sounds, so she might be running the combinations through her language processor and, not finding anything closer, selecting kisses as the closest in terms of sound and therefore most reasonable interpretation of besos.

And of course she is probably also reading all kinds of nonverbal cues. About 10 years ago, my family fostered a deaf Australian shepherd puppy for several months to help prepare her for adoption, and in the process of working with her, I learned that even hearing dogs don’t necessarily need verbal commands because they learn the nonverbal behaviors that accompany each particular command. Those behaviors (gestures, facial expressions, etc.) can be enough to transmit the command. Some trainers say that is really all they ever respond to and that the verbal commands are all to make life easier for the human, but I think the example of Chaser and her lexicon of 1,000+ words may present a significant challenge to that theory.

And so even if dogs cannot predict phonemic splits (although I am not ready to rule out the possibility), even if they pay attention to what we pay attention to and ignore what we ignore (linguistically, anyway), it is really quite remarkable that somehow they have learned to do that. Even if they are no more sensitive to phonological variation than the people who love them (or maybe they are but learn not to be), in a sense they are still demonstrating an impressive capacity for a level of understanding that is not necessarily available to humans when we learn languages non-natively.

This capacity may have to do with their cognitive and linguistic abilities, and it may also be that they have other ways of getting information from us, including the kind of information that can compensate for phonological variability and instability, in yet one more way that dogs have learned and evolved to adjust themselves to human limitations. They are probably better than humans are at discerning differences in sounds, but they also seem to be really good at adapting to human ideas of what’s “close enough” to the point that they may even be more flexible on this than we are. All I can say for certain at this point is that however they do it, it is clearly another example of the all-around awesomeness of dogs.


[1] As I have discussed previously, the idea of the phoneme as the American structuralist linguists conceptualized it is not discrete but relational, which is to say it exists only in relation to other sounds. The linguistic anthropologist Edward Sapir (1884-1939) was among the first to articulate the relationality of speech sounds in a 1925 paper, "Sound Patterns in Language," which is included in The Collected Works of Edward Sapir, full text available here via the Internet Archive.

[2] Of course Frisbee™ is a brand name and Registered Trademark of the Wham-O company, but in Scarlett and Quinn's world, and apparently in Chaser's as well, all flying discs are frisbees.

[3] [vεn] sounds like venn, as in Venn diagram. The [ε] vowel is called epsilon and is pronounced as what many English speakers consider a "short e."

Originally posted to alevei on Fri May 10, 2013 at 07:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Hey, I didn't even know what a Phonemic Split was (11+ / 0-)

    but surely my dogs are smarter!

  •  Absolutely fascinating (11+ / 0-)

    Thank you very much for writing this series.

    I have to admit, my interest is more focused where I have experience, in dog behavior, than the linguistics side. But like the boundlessly curious border collie, I'm working hard to understand the ramifications of the linguistics too.

    Few observations...

    Obviously, as you mentioned, tone of commands has a lot to do with a dog's understanding. (hence the similar response to "kisses" and "besos".) Tone can tremendously help to overcome the different speech patterns we non-linguists would call accents.

    Not just anyone can give a dog a command, even a well trained dog, and expect an accurate or reliable measure of the response. A command can only come from a pack member. If it comes from anyone else, it's no more than a suggestion. A positive response will indicate understanding, but a non-response won't necessarily indicate a lack of understanding.

    These studies make me wonder about how dogs communicate among themselves. How many of their vocalizations have specific meanings? And are those meanings universally understood across canine populations.

    Fascinating stuff. Thanks again.

    •  "If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some (13+ / 0-)

      influence, try ordering somebody else's dog around."
      -- Will Rogers

    •  That's true. (6+ / 0-)

      Not anyone can give a command to a dog.

      Itzl has been trained not to respond to other people's commands. as a service dog, he can only take commands from a limited number of people (me, and when I give the transfer command, his trainer, the vet, my children, my siblings, his inner harem, and that's it), and he will take food only from a smaller number of people than he will take commands from.

      All knowledge is worth having. Check out OctopodiCon to support steampunk learning and fun. Also, on DKos, check out the Itzl Alert Network.

      by Noddy on Fri May 10, 2013 at 01:44:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You'd be surprised. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Hand your dog off to a top-rate trainer (or other experience handler) and your dog (whatever his/her skill level) will likely be a mushy pile of obedience eager to please.

      It's not "pack member," so much as its human who shows ( either instantly or over time) that they deserve respect. I'm not talking about people like Cesar Millan either. I'm talking about trainers who use proven cruelty-free "positive" techniques. They exude confidence and a sense that your dog will be safe with them. A smart, emotionally healthy, well socialized dog recognizes that instantly.

      © grover

      So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

      by grover on Sat May 11, 2013 at 01:02:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I was a dog trainer (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        for many years. I know how it works. It is not just a matter of respect. It is hierarchy among the pack. A dog that gets a command that is understood from someone (human or other dog) that is above them in their pack is incapable of not responding to that command unless there are circumstances beyond their control (i.e., dogs can't do some things when they're stressed or excited, like eat or sit, respectively). If the command comes from someone outside their pack, it is never anything more than a suggestion. Some dogs will almost always obey, some never will.

        I agree that cruelty-free positive techniques are better. It's exactly what I was trained to use. Some dogs are always eager to please. Others, not so much. There really are dogs who don't give a shit. And it varies among breeds. Terriers, for instance, particularly the small ratters, are notoriously difficult to train, and unless they're treat trained (a technique I never used), will rarely respond to anyone outside their pack.

  •  I seem to recall your alluding (5+ / 0-)

    to a wish that you'd gone into this particular research area (dog linguistics) more formally, and longer ago. Among the many advantages are being not only allowed but required to use terms (and the objects to which they refer), such as toy, ball, and frisbee, in research settings, and to receive besos from subjects without compromising the experiment (or getting involved in an ethics violation investigation). Seriously, though, the research is fascinating and beyond "worthy." Any wonder dogs' (and other animals') have such a profound impact on humans as companions and visitors to senior citizen centers, hospitals/rehab facilities. I believe there are measurable health-related impacts from these interactions. I wonder if this is just the kind of research that has been attacked by conservatives, perhaps funded by NSF Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, as being wasteful or unworthy of investment. Proof positive that dogs can emerge as more noble quite often than some of our human companions.

    I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

    by dannyboy1 on Fri May 10, 2013 at 09:58:59 AM PDT

    •  Ha! Good point. :-) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I hadn't thought about the potential problems you point out as inherent in pursuing dog studies as a career. Not sure how I would be able to negotiate the conflicts of interest that would undoubtedly arise, since I certainly would want to be eligible to

      receive besos from subjects without compromising the experiment (or getting involved in an ethics violation investigation).
  •  And yet, (6+ / 0-)

    they still fall for it when you palm the ball and mime throwing.  :)

    I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

    by trumpeter on Fri May 10, 2013 at 10:06:34 AM PDT

  •  Our Tawain refugee (ancestry unknown...but (4+ / 0-)

    maybe some sort of combo of border collie, whippet, terrier, gazelle?)  ...arrived here at around 1.5 yrs and did not speak English...much less human.   She had to be taught to look at a face rather than just hands & feet.  Fear and food were her motivators...and still are...although now she doesn't go up on her hind legs in fear when walking down the street.

    She is fast in everyway imaginable...and now understands many words...including ball, big ball, frisbee, bone, treat.   When asked to "say hello"...she will tentatively sniff the hand of a stranger...which is difficult for her since suspicion is her middle name and helps keep her safe.    

    She of course does a sit, stay (briefly), and find it.  Will also wave hello on cue when sitting.   She will also "go find daddy" or "go find mommy" when directed to do so.   She is around 9 yrs old now and still tears at 100 miles per hr whereever it is she is going: upstairs, downstairs, around a field.  She can flatten out and run like the dickens.  The first few years (after her broken leg healed and the heart worm rx was finished)  she HAD to run at top speed a few times per day around a big big field at least.

    If we whisper together she comes running to see what it is about.  She is a concern troll of the first order.

    “... there is no shame in not knowing. The problem arises when irrational thought and attendant behavior fill the vacuum left by ignorance.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist

    by leema on Fri May 10, 2013 at 01:54:25 PM PDT

  •  Dogs never cease to amaze me... (5+ / 0-)

    I have two dogs and lately, I have been observing their sense of fairness.

    My larger dog is a golden lab and my smaller one is an American Cocker Spaniel.

    If I give one a treat, the other will sit patiently waiting fo their treat.  If I do not give them their treat, they get visibly upset.  If I give one dog two treats and the other one treat, they know the difference and seem to have counted and kept track.  If I give the larger dog a larger treat and the smaller dog a smaller treat, the smaller seems to notice but does not get "as" upset.  The large dao does get more upset when I give the larger treat to the smaller dog.

    I have tried giving them multiple treat to see when they stop noticing the discrepency and it seems (from my opinion which is of course subjective) they notice but care less and less until they either stop counting or stop caring or both.  There are some treats my smaller dog likes and my larger dog will not eat.  As long as I offer him the treat, even though he turns his nose up at it, he doesn't seem to mind me giving his treat to the smaller dog.

    I think the concept of counting and the concept of fairness are both more sophisticated intelligence traits than most people give dogs credit for.  

    "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

    by Buckeye Nut Schell on Fri May 10, 2013 at 02:30:19 PM PDT

    •  Generally, research has shown (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alevei, Buckeye Nut Schell

      Dogs can count: one, two, many.

      So don't try to give uneven amounts before 3-4 or they'll figure you out. Also, as long as you're giving one to each (so they can easily follow one, then one, then one), they can count along.

      I have a cue. "That's all." It's just easier to tell them when I'm done giving treats (or playing tug, or fetch, whatever.). They know its time to turn off the part of their brain that keeps hoping for more.

      © grover

      So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

      by grover on Sat May 11, 2013 at 01:08:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As a long time dog afficionado (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noddy, JayRaye, Involuntary Exile, alevei

    my particular preference being Beagles, there isn't a shred of doubt in my mind that they are intelligent in many ways. I don't know if dogs understand language exactly the same way I do, but they clearly and quickly learn what an astonishing array of words and phrases mean. So forgetting the words as such, I have clearly observed dogs

    1. respond immediately and appropriately to multi-word phrases,
    2. give me the "I'll be damned if i'll do that" look,
    3. and clearly indicate they haven't a clue what I just said but would like to understand.

    Every dog we've had has, at one time or another, made some strange un-doglike sounds that are clearly directed at us.  An attempt at vocal communication? Who knows.....

    If dogs had opposable thumbs, we'd be the pets.

  •  Thank You - N/T (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Fri May 10, 2013 at 02:58:39 PM PDT

  •  What a wonderful series of diaries! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JayRaye, Involuntary Exile, alevei

    I've been involved in a long term series of professional development for educators on animal behavior. For decades people have under-respected the science of animal behavior because it made folks feel guilty about the way we treat our fellow mammals.

  •  I'd be a lot my dog, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alevei, Kane in CA, Dburn

    if I didn't need to decide if the toilet paper was suppose unroll from the top, or the bottom of the roll...and further more, I have a neighbor's yard I'd like to take a crap in...just for the hell of it...just like my dog...she's a lot smarter.

    And they scream... The worst things in life come free to us... Cause we're just under the upper hand... And go mad for a couple grams.

    by glb3 on Fri May 10, 2013 at 03:51:18 PM PDT

  •  When I was growing up (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    we had an energetic Siberian Husky mix who used to barrel into solid objects (e.g., a chair) at top speeds, as if she hadn't even seen them. A dog should be able see straight ahead, ya' think?

    I ask you, would this pooch have shown "phonemic awareness"?

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Fri May 10, 2013 at 08:24:56 PM PDT

  •  I'm reminded of 2 things. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alevei, grover

    1) The time a research company tried to do a survey with me about tissue paper. "Wrapping paper?" I asked. No, tissue paper they said. "You mean kleenex?" I asked? Well that's one kind of tissue paper they responded. Several times during the interview I had to be reminded of what tissue paper is.

    And still to this day, I wrap gifts with fancy tissue paper and blow my nose with kleenex.  My kleenex just happens to have "Puffs" written on it.

    To me all flying discs are called frisbees.

    2) The part in the Hitchhikers Galaxy where we find out that the mice have actually been running an experiment on humans and not the other way round.

    I imagine dogs marvel at the fact that we are smart enough to know they want the frisbee thrown.

    P.S. The best of the dog trainers call them "cues" or "requests" not commands.

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

    by ZenTrainer on Fri May 10, 2013 at 08:49:30 PM PDT

    •  Requests. Heh. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alevei, ZenTrainer

      My beagle would say, "give me cheese, and I'll consider your 'request.'"

      They're cues at my house.


      As to your other point, I use Kleenex, Bandaids, Frisbees,  Bubble Wrap, Chap Stick, Scotch Tape, Zip-locs, Comet and Clorox (not too often)

      I'm a walking trademark violator.

      © grover

      So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

      by grover on Sat May 11, 2013 at 01:18:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't even know any other name for some of those (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'm going to go look at my box of bandaids and see what they are called.

        No wonder I couldn't find chap stick made by Burts Bees for my neice.

        Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

        by ZenTrainer on Sat May 11, 2013 at 10:07:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Stanley Coren writes a few sentences about a chap (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alevei, GreyHawk

    He knows that named his dogs names that are nearly identical, except for the opening consonant. For example (and this is just an example, I don't have the actual names in front of me), the dogs were named something like Chuck, Buck, Duck, Huck, Tuck, and  Luck. (Yes, some of the names were as similar as Duck and Tuck. )

    He said the dogs were never confused about their names nor did they answer to each other's names.

    I'm not sure which of his books he mentioned this in. I've read all his books, but I'm not a big Coren fan. I think The Intelligence of Dogs is flawed. All he measures for is biddability (which he does try to make up for in later books). So I haven't really invested much time in his books, other than read them and stick them on my shelf. If you're interested, I can probably find it.

    But I found that fact pretty interesting, and not at all surprising.

    I have cues  that are almost identical, but my dogs discern the difference. Much of that may be context driven. But not all is.

    Then again, I do specific training to build skills for my dogs to pay attention to what I SAY regardless of the context.

    I'm guessing the BC in the study had that sort of training (formal or informal) or is a very biddable dog (even by BC standards).

    Interesting diary. The domestic dog is one of the most successful species from an evolutionary perspective because he has learned to watch and listen to human beings and adjust according to what we do. The average pet is a truly remarkable dog. Successful working dogs are inspiring. That they do most of this with not that much hard work (and what work there is tends to be fun) is pretty darn amazing.

    I'm a big fan.


    © grover

    So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

    by grover on Sat May 11, 2013 at 12:54:04 AM PDT

    •  Minimal-pair dog names -- wow! (0+ / 0-)

      This is really interesting:

      the dogs were named something like Chuck, Buck, Duck, Huck, Tuck, and  Luck. (Yes, some of the names were as similar as Duck and Tuck. )

      He said the dogs were never confused about their names nor did they answer to each other's names.

      That is amazing and raises a lot of questions about what else they might be hearing or otherwise perceiving when those names are articulated, especially Duck and Tuck, whose initial consonants are so close.

      And this is very interesting too:

      I have cues  that are almost identical, but my dogs discern the difference. Much of that may be context driven. But not all is.
      I think part of what fascinates me so much about all this is the extent to which so much about how dogs understand us (and how they acquire that understanding) is still so hard for humans to comprehend. I definitely hear you on the contextual information that they can pick up, including information we are mostly (or completely) unaware of providing to them (or that they are somehow getting in other ways), but I also think you're right that context can't always explain it. There is no question in my mind but that they have cognitive, communicative, and perceptual skills that we can try to explain in terms that humans can understand (i.e., by trying to explain them as analogous to human abilities), but I think there is probably a lot going on for which there are no human analogies.

      Your point about the evolutionary success of these amazing animals is also well taken, and I could not agree more that what they have achieved is remarkable. I love that these fantastic beings have survived and thrived beyond the wildest dreams of human beings and our own hopes for the future of our species, and that they have done so mostly peacefully and while managing to develop and retain a central essence of joy and goodness that seems to be common to all the dogs I've known (including those who are considered to have "issues" and/or who have suffered much).

      I am in awe of dogs in general and of the individual dogs I've known in particular. The stories that commenters have posted in response to this diary and my previous one offer so many interesting and diverse examples of their awesomeness, which reaffirms my belief that their existence is incontrovertible evidence that the world isn't all bad. I just wish they got more respect from human beings overall. We really don't deserve them, so I am grateful that they are willing to have anything to do with us.

      (As I was writing this, Scarlett sauntered in, swinging her tail gracefully from side to side, put her front paws on my leg to bestow a few besos, and then sauntered off, tail still swinging. I don't know how people live without dogs. I hope I never have to.)

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site