Obsequious dogs; impervious cats

Meditatio Ephemera

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news lately, you’ve probably heard about an Hungarian study that indicates dogs understand human language in a much more sophisticated manner than previously thought.

Eniko Kubinyi/Eotvos Lorand University Eniko Kubinyi/Eotvos Lorand University

The study exposed 13 dogs to recordings of their owners’ voices in both appreciative and neutral tones while observing their brains with a functional MRI. Some of the phrases were meaningful — szép munka! (well done!), for example — while others were meaningless. (These were taken from Donald Trump’s varying speeches on immigration policy.) It turns out dogs register not only intonation, but meaning: they recognized praise only when praise words were matched with an appreciative tone.

To which my cats say, in a neutral tone: Nagy ügy. A kutyák alázatos és méltatlan. (Big deal. Dogs are obsequious and undignified.)

Which the researchers kind of conceded. In an e-mail to the Associated Press, study lead…

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One response to “Obsequious dogs; impervious cats

  1. We don’t believe it unless we see it on an MRI? My dog Misty understood maybe 35 words, after repeating simple phrases to her for ten years. Her best sentence ever was, “Hey Misty, do you want to go for a ride in the car with Jeff to the trading post to get some Pizza? This includes elements of her favorite words, such as “ride in the car” and “Pizza.” Her response was to go get into Jeff’s car, in the passenger seat, which she never do if she had not understood quite a bit. Animals are quite good with language, but one must speak to them about their own interests. What they can almost never do is a two step reasoning, which requires seeing one thought in the mind while thinking another. So Misty could climb on the chair to get her sock off the chandelier, but could not be taught to move the chair under the chandelier then get on the chai to get her sock. Cats understand everything regarding vanity, which is not a vice in cats. They learn the names of their body parts very well, as when I would tell Sophia, “I’m going to get your nose, belly ears,” etc, and she would defend each part from biffing. They enjoy daily praising of their whiskers, if not a reading of the Jubluante Agno of Christopher Smart. Crows have been seen to do two step reasoning, pulling up a fishing line to steal the bait. A chimp, having observed his cage being unlocked, stole the key, hid it in his mouth for a week, took it out and used it to escape. We had a pony once opened the latch on a gate to let all the hoses out. And for martial arts, watch that donkey kill that mountain lion. He took its tail in his mouth, swung the lion around, and broke its neck against the ground.

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