Talk To The Animals

I had an interesting chat with someone recently about the conversations she has with her cat. “Fluffy understands every word I say”, claimed my buddy. I politely commended her smart feline, but explained that while we all like to THINK that our animals understand human language as easily as fellow humans (and I’m not convinced humans understand it all that well either), this is really not the case. I don’t know much about cats and their ability to understand words. My cat, Lucy, seems to understand the emphasis I put into my words..”LUCY!! STOP EATING THAT ELECTRICAL CORD!!”, more than the actual words themselves, especially when the words are accompanied by the flinging of an object in her direction (like a sock, NOT a brick). Dogs seem have a larger capacity for words, sometimes hundreds. You can compare it to a very young child’s vocabulary. Much of a dog’s understanding is based on tone and inflection, as well as the facial and body language you display at the time you speak, and not so much syntax.  While talking to our animals endlessly about our angst and other stuff makes US feel connected, most of it is probably sounding like, “Blah, blah, blah” to them. Guide dogs learn words (verbal commands) to do their jobs. Every handler adds to their repertoire, based on need. I have added to Opal’s vocabulary. She can, for example, “find the garbage” (I draw out the word, ‘garbage’ and it comes out sounding  more like, “gahhbaage”. This is a necessary command for us, given our busy schedule, varied routes and the number of times she has a poop on the go.  I simply cannot be hauling poop bags into offices or other buildings all over HRM. The downside is, that garbage cans come in all types of shapes and sizes. Some have wrought iron cages around them, others are on poles (really hard to find). Even more challenging, is the similarity of appearance to recycle containers, composters, and even some newspaper boxes and public donation bins.  You can appreciate  the potential for a ‘mistaken deposit’. Dogs will  respond more to association with the word, than the word itself.  For example, if I say to Opal , ” We’re going to Sobeys”, EVERY time that we  enter  the same local Sobey’s store. then she will make the association. If I say the same thing at another of the Sobey’s store location, it will make no sense to her. Associations are quickly made in a dog’s mind. I feed Opal in the washroom at city hall every time I go to my regularly scheduled meeting there because of the time of day when the meeting takes place.  If I am unfortunate enough to be in City Hall for a different reason in the early morning, Opal has the expectation that we will  go to the washroom and she will  be fed, regardless of the time of day.


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