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Dogs Do Understand Languages

Today, I thought I would tackle one of the many myths and 'wives tales' that seem to prevail at the fringes of the dog-world, and are perpetuated by our human brethren in their continuing effort to understand us. Except for the tricks we learn and the "working dog" functions that we routinely perform, lots of people think of us as dumb animals. Innnocent, perhaps, but "dumb?" Au contraire!

Can dogs really understand human speech: even French, Spanish, English, Arabic or Italian? Of course we can! Just because we can't speak it doesn't mean we can't understand it. In fact, many of us not only understand different languages, but we are equally good at understanding 'signing,' the hand language used by the hearing challenged (deaf). Our Border Collie breeds have actually become excellent at this. You have to realize that if we weren't able to learn or understand the languages spoken by our owners, we would probably starve to death and likely never show up when called. Language is the key for communicating with us dogs, and we will learn whatever language you are speaking during our formative years.

For instance, I have always been referred to as a "dawg." First, I was Ray's "dawg," and now I am Isabel's "dawg." Our Cuban visitors from Miami are always referring to me as a "Homero, el perro," and our French visitors from Atlanta always call me "Homer, le chien." Some folks from Pacific Rim nations would be pleased to call me "dinner."

Faded Glory Farm really takes on an international flavor at times during the tourist season. We get folks from Quebec who speak French and/or English concurrently, and people from Massachusetts who speak "Yankee." I have actually seen guests' dogs who can respond easily to two and sometimes even three different languages; if you include profanity, four.

Intonation also plays a big part; how often have you seen a dog who failed to arrive in time for his dinner? I can tell merely from the tone of Isabel's voice that she is calling me for dinner or a treat. In this case, language is immaterial, but her tone is international; don't get in my way when I respond, or you'll be trampled!

Just remember, because we dogs can't understand the more complex aspects of your language (we've got a limited vocabulary), we still have to rely heavily on our basic instincts to figure out what you are thinking. Our noses play an important part in this process. You may not know it, but you folks have all sorts of little glands just like we do. These glands, in addition to your skin, emit powerful scented messages that tell us when you are angry, happy, afraid, suffering from indigestion, or even in love. Pheromones, folks; you have them too!

With the exception of some Dalmatians I have known, we dogs are rarely "hearing challenged." However, Isabel's nephew Cletus did manage to discharge his shotgun just inches away from his dog Junior's head, and old Junior is now as deaf as a stone. Before he went deaf, Junior, who lives with Cletus and Marjorie in Cordele, was renowned as a world-class hunting dog. Since his unfortunate disability, Junior has been put out to stud. Isabel says that he is doing just fine. Sounds to me like old Junior has gone to heaven without dying to get there!

Most dogs have exceptional hearing. Just turn on your TV and watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. These grand mutts can hear and respond to commands yelled at them from one end of MadisonSquareGarden to the other in a variety of languages, usually by petulant little ladies from every corner of the globe.

Isabel's good friend, Phoebe Lewis-Wild has two black and white Border Collies that routinely herd her sheep in response to her whistles and hand signals; very smart dogs. But, make no mistake, Border Collies find their way to the 'old food dish' just like us 'less enlightened' mutts. All in all, we're actually pretty much the same, we just have different specialties.

So, at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter what language we understand or what language you speak. We dogs are capable of offering the rare gift of unconditional love. The two universal languages that all dogs and humans can truly appreciate and understand are respect and kindness. If this is your approach to your relationship with your dog, both of your worlds will be a better place, and, as a dog, I can assure you that you will end up with a four-legged friend with his tail wagging.

© 2010-2011 David Johnson, All Rights Reserved