If dogs could talk

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Over the years, I have often wondered what my dogs were thinking about. Some of the expressions that we take to be sad or forlorn may be the complete opposite, for all we know. Ollie’s wrinkled face can conjure up some unusual expressions, but in his case that curly tail is the true indicator of his mood. Some humourists have done well with captions added to photos, suggesting what our pets might actually be thinking, or saying to us. But as their conversation is non-existent, and even barks and growls seem to carry little meaning other than as warnings, we have to remain mystified.

When it comes to Ollie, I confess that I never try to attribute human feelings or emotions to him. I dislike the presumption that the canine mind has much similarity to human thought processes. I prefer to be realistic, and to conclude that dogs are animals ruled by instinct. They live in a world dominated by smells, food, and sleep. Although they can be trained to carry out quite complex tasks, they do not really understand why they are doing them, just that the action pleases the owner. In short, they are one of the least intelligent animals, sad but true. They yearn to know their position in a pack, to ascend the pecking order where possible, or to accept their status without complaint.

Despite my take on the much-argued subject of canine intelligence, I nonetheless remain intrigued by what Ollie would say in response to apparently mundane and everyday events. When he nudges me at treat-time, how does his body clock tell him it is midday, even when the clocks have gone back? Is the nudge even his way of asking for the treat, or it is just something he does from instinct and repetition? Perhaps he is seeking reassurance, as he has been ignored whilst I have been busy at the keyboard. When the car stops suddenly, and he looks up from his spot at the back, is he wondering why, or just thinking we have arrived? After I have been out the house for as little as five minutes, or for as long as three hours, his greeting is exactly the same. Does he have any real sense of time, I wonder?

Of course, he can recognise frequently repeated words. ‘Toys’, ‘Mum’, ‘Car’, ‘Treat’, any of these will get a response. He knows that ‘A guest’ is a caller, but not that it could mean anyone from the postman, to one of Julie’s children. He knows his name too, and whether something belongs to him, as in ‘Ollie’s biscuit’. He can detect the sound of my car, and differentiate that from Julie’s car, and will always identify the sound of a familiar voice, heard outside. I love having him of course, but steadfastly refuse to attribute a single human comparison to any of his actions or moderate examples of intelligence. He is a dog, after all.

But I do wish that he could talk.

I wish he could tell me when he feels ill, other than by lowering his tail. That might also mean that he is fed up, too hot, or has waited too long for his dinner. I wish that he could explain why he prefers some toys to others, and why he always brings one to show me, whenever I come home. I would dearly love to know why he almost never barks or growls, but takes offence at a random selection of people encountered on our walks. When he has chased a deer, or rabbit, I wish that he could turn to me afterwards, and say, “Nearly got that one”. And after three hours out walking, I often hope that he will discover the power of speech, turn to me and say, “Can we go home now?” If he doesn’t want any food, I would really like it if he could come over and say, “No dinner for me tonight, thanks. I’m not very hungry”.

But he never will, and this is all just fantasy on my part of course.

Most of all, I am just pleased that he is a happy dog. I will settle for no conversation for that.

For those of you who like this photo, I would like to give the credit for taking it to my good friend, Antony Kyriacou.

Here is a link to his website. http://antonykyriacou.photodeck.com/

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42 thoughts on “If dogs could talk

      1. Thanks 🙂 Cartooning isn’t really my thing, but who could resist that face, especially after what you wrote? It really is a super photo! As for what he was really thinking; like you say, it will forever be a question mark.

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  1. What a handsome fellow Ollie is. Our cat never shuts up sometimes, stands and meows in all sorts of vocal ranges so I wish she could speak English too. What I didn’t know til I watched a documentary on cats the other week, is that cats have learned these sounds in order to communicate with people, and feral cats don’t do it, nor do wild cats, yes Lions & Tigers roar and grunt, but nothing like the range of sounds a domestic cat makes. I don’t know if that counts as intelligence or not, but it is really annoying sometimes! 😀

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  2. This morning, another house finch flew through the living room window and perched up high on a window ledge. Of course, it wanted to fly through this fixed window, and couldn’t. Instead, it fluttered about, bumping into the glass. Another house finch—this one outside—went into a frenzy just inches away from its trapped cousin, separated from it by a thin pane of glass. I could see that the “inside-the-house” house finch, beckoned by the “outside-the-house” house finch, would not calm down enough to figure out how to save itself, so, after about five minutes, I got out the ladder (third time this summer) and rescued it. A gentle stroke on the head, and then…freedom! I’ve heard that many birds are quite smart, but have no idea how high on the intelligence list a house finch ranks. To be honest, I’m not sure why it would fly into the house in the first place. But it flew straight in, not from an angle. I witnessed it. The question is whether the house finch would have eventually figured out it should come off its perch, drop down, and fly back through the living room window. The other house finch certainly interfered with any rational thought process a bird might go through. To what extent can a bird reason? There are some very smart birds (some use tools to get food; others, like the African grey parrot, can not only mimic words, but also string together meaningful words to impart a message). Perhaps the house finch is not one of them.

    As for dogs, they can be pretty darn smart. My sister used to have a friend whose dog would pretty much do anything you asked it to do. They weren’t repetitive commands. You could just say anything, and it would understand. Maybe it was the Einstein of dogs…. The Old English Sheepdog we had years ago was intelligent (though far from being a genius), and proved it on numerous occasions. I do agree that we should not anthropomorphize dogs, but they do apparently have feelings, enjoy some form of thought, and learn human vocabulary. They are also very sensitive to human emotions. Obviously, they behave instinctively much of the time. Then again, humans also behave instinctively at times. I guess it would be nice if a dog could talk, but we might be subjected to some hard-to-swallow criticisms! Ollie, of course, has no grounds for criticism. He would probably just say, “Dude! You’re the best!”

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    1. I agree that some dogs appear to much cleverer than others. I am also sure that they have feelings, and can detect moods (and illness or injury) in their owners. Well done for saving the finch, David. If it had been a parrot it could have said “Thanks”!
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. This is such a smashing portrait of Ollie! ❤ 🙂 Well done, Antony and thank you for sharing this gem, Pete.
    It is indeed a pity dogs can't talk. I try to read Franco's breathing and his poses hoping to understand if my old dog is in pain or not. It would have been so much easier for both of us if he'd talk …
    Good nicht to you from Cley, it was such a hot week, phew
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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    1. I have met a few two year-olds who are significantly less intelligent. The difference is they develop, and Ollie has stayed the same for over four years…I would sooner have a dog myself, but I am sure that your Winkette brings you untold joy. (At least until she discovers boys!)
      Best wishes, Pete.

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