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There's a report in this morning's paper that tells us that some scientists, after doing tests, have decided that dogs are a lot smarter than we think they are. I would amend that to a lot smarter than they think. Those of us who have known and loved dogs for years have always known how much a dog knows and understands. I'll amend that even further. I know that all animals are a heck of a lot smarter and understand our language, and even our emotions, far better than anyone has thought.
The report features work being done with a 9 year old Border Collie in Germany. The scientists involved have been amazed at Rico's ability to understand human language, and moreover, his ability to remember things said to him. For example, they put several of his toys in another room and then asked him to fetch a specific one, using the toy's name. This he can do quite easily. He can even identify a new toy that he's never seen before and re-identify it after it's been given a name.
Researchers have thought the only creatures able to give meaning to a new word were humans. This, in scientific babble is called "fast mapping" and is the way toddlers learn language. Now, along comes Rico who can do it.
You can guess the various reactions among scientists to such findings. Some scoff, others are intrigued but demand further testing. There are some, however, who admit, cautiously, that they thought such findings could be indicative of a manor new finding. Hah! Why don't they ask some dog owners?
Their other thought is that perhaps Rico is a dog Einstein. Another Hah! Anyone who has ever talked to a dog beyond bossing it around with one or two word commands, could tell them that Rico is not that exceptional.
Even though they were amazed when Rico could select objects from groups of four familiar and four new objects, they still had to carp, maintaining that a child can do much more, being able to distinguish a color word or an activity word.
Well, I'd like them to know about an amazing demonstration held during one of my psychology classes in college. A very nice, old man came in with his equally nice and old dog. It was a mixed breed, looking a lot like a Labrador Retriever. He and the dog lived by themselves in a home in the California woods. He said that he treated the pup as an equal and had talked to him constantly since the dog was a baby. He wanted us to see how much his dog understood human language. We were impressed. He asked the dog to go and sit next to the boy in the yellow sweater. There were two boys wearing yellow sweaters. The dog looked up at the man as if to say, "Which one?" When he was told it was the one wearing glasses, he immediately trotted up to the bespectacled lad and sat down next to him.
It went on from there. The pup was able to identify people by gender, hair color, clothing, sneakers, and knew every color in the rainbow and more.
We were flabbergasted as was the professor who said he wished he could have the dog in his class. The old man went on to tell us some amazing stories of examples of his beloved pet's grasp of human communication.
Some scientists believe that animals would be able to speak if they had the necessary anatomy. Some animal behaviorists maintain they try to speak but have difficulty being understood. Those who work closely with dolphins maintain the dolphin is doing his darndest to replicate human speech.
As I said, I've lived with enough animals for enough time to know that it is possible for them to understand what's being said to them. Right now, sadly, I have no pets but can share my daughter's dog and cat, and my son's dog. Every time I'm with them I have a wonderful time talking to and with them.
Bonnie is a Jack Russell Terrier, and is typically fast moving, fast thinking, and very vocal. Otis is a Bull Mastiff - not the very tall kind, but extremely short legged for his weight and breadth, and with a large head. He is extremely sensitive and understands everything said to him.
Both, like Rico, can identify objects. Otis gets his feelings hurt very easily and will toddle off and mope with a heartbreakingly said expression on his face. He talks so ardently with his eyes, you feel like a rat if you don't understand him. Bonnie barks when she has something to say and you can feel her impatience with your inability to respond quickly.
Both dogs have been raised as if they were human counterparts, their IQ's respond accordingly. All animals, if treated with kindness and love, will thrive. Someday, all the dumb animal behaviorists will be able to figure them out and possibly recover from the shock of learning that animals are smarter than they, and we, are.
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