11 June 2004

Them Wacky Scientists

Anyone who lives with a dog (or watched Lassie) will wonder about the point of doing a scientific study of whether dogs can learn the meanings (or at least the referents) of words. See here. When I say "squirrel," both Sophie and Shelbie go on high alert. I've played around with it. I'll be scratching Shelbie's belly while talking to her in a monotone. I'll slip in the word "squirrel," as in "You're a good girl, Shelbie. We had fun this morning down by the school, didn't we? This evening we'll go around the block. Squirrel." Up she bolts, ears raised, eyes fixed. It's funny. I have to resist yanking her around by doing it all the time.

One thing the scientists might study, given that they're studying what we already know, is how dogs pick up on the tone of one's voice. I think they read their human companions' emotions and moods by focusing on their voices. Dogs are far more intelligent than they're given credit for. Sometimes I think Sophie and Shelbie know me better than I know myself. They read me like a book. They know what I'm doing, what I'm about to do, and even, by sniffing me, what I've done.

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