Gary Larson drew a Far Side cartoon I’ll never forget. It’s one among many memorable ones, actually. I can’t reproduce it here because of copyright laws and the fact that I’d like to keep my house instead of giving it to Larson’s lawyer.
In the comic, a man is admonishing his dog, Ginger. In the first panel, we see in the word bubble that the man’s telling Ginger to stay out of the garbage because he’s had it! The second panel shows what Ginger hears. “Blah blah blah Ginger, blah blah, blah blah blah Ginger!”
It made every dog owner laugh. Larson’s work always smacked of the absurd, Like dinosaurs smoking (the real reason they’re extinct) and a cow lookout watching for cars. She warns the others so they’ll drop down to all four hooves and moo when there are human witnesses. That way, we’d never know they were secretly planning a coup. But this one seemed probable. Dogs recognize their own name and sense the excitement in our voice when we ask them if they want a cookie or to go for a walk. But how could a dog really know what we were saying?
Now, scientists have proven that Ginger understood more than she was letting on. She just really liked getting into the trash.
Reported by Scientific American, a couple of researchers got the idea when they moved from Mexico to Hungary with their dogs. They noticed how different it felt to be embedded in a culture with another language. And they wondered whether their dogs noticed the change in languages too.
By outfitting dogs with headphones (SIDEBAR: I would watch a show titled Dogs With Headphones) they tracked the dogs’ brain activity based on changes in language. The dogs also listened to gibberish in their native language and in the foreign tongue. Results showed that they recognized their own language and could distinguish between a real sentence and blah blah blah.
This is the first study to prove that a non-human brain can distinguish between languages.
Future research will try to determine whether dogs’ closeness with humans over eons has led to this ability. Canines have been sitting with us at firesides for thousands of years. More fresh research shows we domesticated dogs by sharing our extra meat with them during the last ice age. That’s how they came to join us in our caves eventually leading to the formation of the rock band, Three Dog Night.
If you’ve ever had a dog, you know how hard they try to understand you. We talk to them and they truly listen. They want to communicate. It’s their fondest wish after being fed and told they’re a good boy or girl. Throwing a tennis ball and giving them a favorite stuffy are definitely high on the list, too.
We are cat people by default. Back when we regularly rode our motorcycles, we thought it would be unfair to leave a dog home alone so often. Cats fit our lifestyle now, too. We are also indoorsy and prone to coughing up hairballs.
The app stores feature dog-to-human translators that claim to tell you what your dog is saying. But it appears that dogs already have a human-to-dog translator built in. We humans just have to figure out how to use it.