People often think the only difference separating humans from the many evolved animals out there is language. Perhaps this explains the compelling urge to “translate” to a dog through baby-talk. Most do not realize, though, that language is actually one thing humans and animals all have in common. Furthermore, this speech is just one aspect of how the human and canine species communicate. Body language is easily recognized, as it is the primary method of communication in the wild. It is through these behaviors an evolved dog understands human language, and on a level most do not realize.
A lot of what humans know comes from books, or maybe, “truths” passed down from parent to child. Since this is simpler, common knowledge is decidedly heard and not learned. Tradition has proved hard to overcome, but as science evolves, so too does the public opinion. This is the case for language and what owners believe about their dogs.
Everything currently known has been known for decades, some of it, centuries. “A dog only has a five-minute memory span.” Intelligent knowledge shows man that dogs have a learning capacity much faster than infants. Who is to decide upon the quality of a dog’s memory? If they are to become house-broken within 6 months and fully trained within a year, why are they so demeaned? If they forget everything five minutes after the fact, they would be too difficult to live with, and definitely not something to be a household pet.
Even though the evolution from wolf to dog has been forced, their understanding of the human language comes from an innate encoding of Schema, which are known to be either learned or inherited. The presumed less-intelligent animal is instinctively knowledgeable with a “collective conscience.” From the very beginning, dogs are given senses more complex than any human. For instance, a dog’s sense of smell is claimed to be thousands of times stronger than a human’s; a dog is even crawling within a short couple days after birth. The ability to do these things and survive in the wild all depends on the ability to learn, and learn quickly.
Understanding the environment around one’s self is the same proponent used in figuring out a person’s intentions through vocal interpretation. Just like a cub recognizing different calls their mother makes; an alarm for danger is different from a grunt of reprimand. If the cub has no ability to differentiate, has no ability to understand language, the cub would be cast out of the group. Evolution would not allow the less-intelligent gene to continue.
A vital question one should ask: what would a researcher classify intelligence as? Some psychologists believe intelligence is too complex to be quantified. If there is a measure, it should take into account all the different senses, all the different abilities, and amplitude of more than academic subjects taught in school. One type of intelligence is athletic ability, and another is of relation to comprehension.
Dogs are a pack animal. To live in a pack, social learning is inevitable. Most, if not all people, have seen a dog mimic the words, “I love you.” Some people have seen their dogs analyze a movie, understand it, and project emotion similar to what a human would feel. To communicate with an animal is a multi-dimensional concept. Body language, as well as verbal speech, must be understood by a modern wolf since it was the wolf that evolved with intelligence specific to this.
Many people are ostracized for having conversations with their dogs, but this behavior is not abnormal. What is abnormal, or counter-productive, is talking to the dog as if they are incapable of comprehension. Genetics aside, dogs will be unintelligent if taught not to think. The actual words in the syntax of sentences may not be an important or functional part of canine understanding, but our vocal patterns and body language are. An evolved dog understands the human language in more ways than one, and it is often the human who does not have the understanding of the dog.
Editorial By Lindsey Alexander