August 8, 2017 12:28 pm

What is your dog really thinking?

Flickr.com/Andrey Shkvarchuk
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Many people like to talk to their pets, but how would you feel if they spoke back… in English? It would be pretty weird, but may soon be a reality!

How would it work?

“A lot of animals have language or language-like elements,” according to animal language expert, Con Slobodchikoff, and the only reason we don’t understand them is that we don’t listen.

LISTEN: Con Slobodchikoff speaking on CKNW’s Jon McComb Show

Thirty years ago, Slobodchikoff became interested in ‘animal language’ while working with prairie dogs.

“I found that their alarm calls are incredibly sophisticated; they have one alarm call for a human, another one for a coyote, another one for a domestic dog and another one for a hawk.”


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The prairie dogs’ alarm calls were found to be so sophisticated, that they could distinguish information about the species of predators but also about the size, shape, and color of them. So for humans, they can tell what color of clothes you’re wearing and they can tell your general size and shape and even if you’re carrying a gun or not.

Through extensive monitoring and recording these alarm calls, Slobodchikoff found the tones and frequencies changed within one tenth of a second.

“What sounds like a cheep, is actually the equivalent of a long sentence like, ‘tall-thin-man-wearing-blue-shirt-carrying-a-gun-walking-slowly’”.

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So what about other animals?

While there is an enormous amount of scientific literature about other animals having language, it hasn’t been fashionable in scientific circles to talk about it. Slobodchikoff found that people are not comfortable talking about language because language is essentially the thing that sets up apart from animals.

However, he has been working closely with computer scientists to develop a computer that has the ability to listen to a prairie dog alarm call and then using artificial intelligence software, analyze the structure of that call, and then tell us in English what the call is about.

“Then, we could go back and tell the computer what we want to convey to the prairie dog. The computer [would] synthesize the appropriate call and play it back to the prairie dogs.”

In regular dogs, emotions are expressed a lot more through their body language.

Slobodchikoff says that the more we study dogs and cats, the more we realize that there’s a lot more sophistication in their understanding of humans.

“It’s been shown that dogs can read emotions on people’s faces. They can recognize the faces of other dogs that can recognize the faces of other people, and so there’s a lot more sophistication going on than we have previously given them credit for.”

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The motivation to understand dogs

In the U.S., anywhere between two and four million dogs are euthanized every year due to behavioral problems.

Slobodchikoff says that a lot of these behavioral problems arise because people and dogs aren’t able to communicate with each other; people aren’t able to communicate to their dog what they expect of the dog, and the dog isn’t able to communicate to the people what the dog wants.

Another motivation to understand pets is that people love to talk and tell their secrets to their animals. They love to think that their pets understand them and they are loyal friends. Being able to translate dog language into English would amplify that, and allow a dialogue between a person and their dog, instead of one-way conversation.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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