Talk to the Animals? Yes! And Whats More, They Talk to Us!

Talk to the animals?

Yes.

And what's more, they talk to us!

If you've ever shared your life with animals, you'll know that they understand most of what you say to them. You mention that you're going for a walk and the dog is standing at the gate, ready. You say that you're going visiting and that dogs aren't invited and you find out where the expression 'hang-dog look' came from -- the ears droop, the head sinks and Pooch drags himself off to sulk.

It's dinner time, you tell the cat that she's got fish for tea and you're overwhelmed with affection; you tell her that tonight's the night she has a tin of cat food and watch her turn her back and ignore you.

So, we know that they know what we're saying, but are we clever enough to understand what they are saying to us?

A cat has a very large vocabulary -- every syllable in miaow can be lengthened, shortened, used alone or in combination with one or more of the others; it can be loud or barely audible; it can be confident, angry, intimate or pitiful, depending on what the cat is trying to tell us.

HOW ANIMALS TEACH US TO UNDERSTAND THEIR LANGUAGE

Cats teach us how to understand them in much the same way we teach babies to understand their language. Every human baby makes the same pre-speech sounds; the gurgles, clucks, hums and bubbles are common to every society. When we hear a sound that is similar to a word used in our language, we repeat it to the baby and then make a great fuss when the baby repeats it to us, and so each child learns the language of its own society.

When your cat wants to go outside, she will try a series of different sounds until you learn to recognise one of them, then she will always use that particular sound to tell you she wants to go out. So, a short m'ia means "I'd like to go outside;" a loud m'ia means "I'd like to go outside NOW;" a long miiaoowww means she can't find you; a pitiful little m'ow means she's cold and she'd like a cuddle.

She will patiently teach you her 'words' until she feels confident that you can meet all her needs. (The poster that states "dogs have masters; cats have staff" has a great deal of truth in it!)

BODY LANGUAGE

Animals use body language and signals, as well as sounds, to communicate. Just watch a child who's been in trouble go to the family dog for comfort. Pooch sits quietly, gazing into the child's eyes, his face a picture of concern and sympathy. He doesn't have to say anything, he just presses gently against the child and offers moral support by simply being there.

HOW WE TEACH ANIMALS TO UNDERSTAND OUR LANGUAGE

Since we can be taught to understand animals, researchers have tried to teach animals how to understand our language, too.

Research into the language capabilities of primates at Georgia State University, Atlanta began in 1971 when the Lana fund was set up "to produce a language analog of human language in non-human primates" and was linked to finding different ways to teach language to children with disabilities.

The first experiments centred around Lana, a female chimp born in October 1970 (and named after the project - LANguage) and were simple tasks that resulted in food being released when certain keys on the computer-based keyboard were pressed.

However, Lana soon began to string together stock sentences into meaningful and new sentences of her own creation, such as "You give Lana banana which is black?" when asking for an overly ripe banana.

According to University records, "Lana was the first ape to demonstrate that chimpanzees could form syntactically adequate sentences, the first to show that they were capable of recognizing written symbols, and the first to demonstrate that they could read. She could take partially completed sentences, read them and complete them appropriately."

Recent research, conducted by Georgia State University Psychology Professor, Duane Rumbaugh, Ph.D., of the Language Research Centre, shows that when reared in the proper environment, chimpanzees and bonobos are as capable of understanding questions and simple sentences as a two-and-a-half year old child.

KANZI

Kanzi, a bonobo ape, and his foster mother, Matata, arrived at the LRC when Kanzi was 6 months of age. He accompanied his mother during her daily lexigram training tasks and spent most of his time ignoring them or trying to disrupt them in any way he could. Like any youngster, he liked the lights on the keyboard and often tried to chase the symbols as they appeared on the projectors above the keyboard.

When Kanzi was 2 1/2 years old, Matata was sent back to breed and Kanzi was separated from her for the first time. After fretting for her for three days, Kanzi then settled and began to play with the keyboard. Lab notes record that he, "correctly employ(ed) nearly all of the 10 lexigrams that were on his mother's keyboard at that time. He didn't need to be taught these lexigrams, as he already knew them.

"Prior to the separation, however, Kanzi had given no evidence that he had even been attending to them, much less that he understood any sort of semantic connection between lexigrams and objects in his world. Even more striking than the fact that Kanzi knew the lexigrams, was the fact that he also knew the spoken English words which the lexigrams represented. He couldn't speak the words, but when he heard them, he could locate the lexigram, or printed symbol, that corresponded with the word."

One of the most fascinating aspects of all this was that Kanzi had learnt to understand the lexigrams simply by being exposed to their use. From that point, all reward-based learning was discarded in favour of letting Kanzi learn through conversation.

He was given plenty of help to learn with gestures, with pictures, with video tape and with activities that showed the words in action. Most of the conversations centered around travel, finding food and playing and his vocabulary steadily increased until today he can use over 200 words and can understand more than 500.

SIGN LANGUAGE

After observing how chimpanzees communicated in the wild using signals, psychologists, Beatrice and Robert Gardner conducted a series of experiments in the 1960s, to teach young chimps Ameslan, the American sign language where each gesture represents a word, rather than a syllable or sound.

The young female chimps learnt hundreds of words and were even able to use these words to invent their own phrases to suit different situations. One chimp, Lucy, was given her first taste of a hot radish and signed that it was, "... cry hurt food."

Hearing impaired people who observed the chimps were able to understand them without difficulty and the Gardners were hopeful of being able to extend their communication with the chimps.

THE LAST WORD

However, funding for the project gradually dried up and the chimps were sold for medical research.

Shortly before the facility closed down, two handlers who had worked on the project made one last visit. They signed to the chimps, "What do you want?"

One after another, the chimps signed back, "Key."

The danger in learning to understand what animals have to say is that we may not like what we hear.

Jennifer Stewart has a degree in English and History and taught senior High School for over twenty years. During that time, she was Head of Department, responsible for devising and implementing teaching programs, and for supervising young teachers. After leaving full-time teaching, she wrote (and now markets) writing courses for students and adults who want to improve their writing skills. Visit her website at http://www.write101.com and subscribe to free, weekly Writing Tips: mailto:[email protected]

Jennifer also offers professional writing services - copy writing, editing and proof reading for your web pages, press releases, technical booklets, newsletters, business proposals, reports or any other writing projects.

In The News:


Supermarket News

Humanization of pets drives spending
Supermarket News
Americans spent approximately $30 billion on pet products in 2016, a recent FONA International report found. The study, Pet Care Gets Personal: Human Flavor Trends in the Pet Care Space, also determined that this figure surpassed what U.S. shoppers ...


CBS News

Caring for a sick pet can take a major toll
CBS News
"We found that individuals with a chronically or terminally ill pet showed greater caregiver burden compared to those with a healthy pet," said Spitznagel, an associate professor in the department of psychological sciences at Kent State University in Ohio.
Owners of Sick Pets Have More Anxiety and Depression | Time.comTIME
Owners of seriously ill pets at risk of stress, anxiety and depressive symptomsScience Daily
Study identifies 'caregiver burden' in owners of severely ill petsNews-Medical.net
Newsweek -Medical News Today
all 13 news articles »

The Mercury News

Pets and Wildlife: Bay Area adoptions, other events Sept. 19 and beyond
The Mercury News
Bark, Brews + Bites: Fun Halloween celebration for pets and their humans with paw painting for pups, pet pampering, a pet psychic, pooch photo booths, crafts, doggy treats, pet tricks and a canine costume contest. The event coincides with DogFest Walk ...
The human reasons why pets end up at the Pasadena Humane Society's shelterThe Pasadena Star-News

all 22 news articles »

The Mercury News

Share your cute napping pet photos - The Mercury News
The Mercury News
We all love our pets, but sometimes we love them even more when they're snoozing. If it's possible, they're even cuter when they're asleep. Pet Pal Connection ...

and more »

Reuters

After Irma, special oxygen masks helped Florida pets breathe easier
Reuters
Like thousands of other fire departments and rescue squads across the country, Titusville first-responders carry special masks as standard equipment to deliver oxygen to dogs, cats and other pets in the city, about 40 miles east of Orlando. “A pet mask ...

and more »

The Daily Collegian Online

Pet may help kid grow up, senior stay healthy
The Daily Collegian Online
According to a study conducted by the University of Lincoln and Glasgow Caledonian University in collaboration with Mars Petcare Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, dog owners 65 and older were found to walk more than 20 minutes more a day than seniors ...

and more »

New York Magazine

The Very Best Pet Products and Accessories
New York Magazine
Some people love their pets as much as they love their children; others love their pets even more. And for the most obsessive pet owners, only the best accessories, grooming products, and toys will do. We've compiled all the best pet advice that's been ...

and more »

wtkr.com

How your pet's illness could put your mental health at risk
wtkr.com
Shortly after his father died of kidney cancer in 2010, his mother's beloved black Labrador retriever mix — Mary Margaret, or Maggie — was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, a rapidly growing tumor of the blood vessels. Maggie had a history of health ...

and more »

Miami Herald

If you lost your pet during Hurricane Irma, here's what you should do
Miami Herald
Hurricane Irma left thousands of people homeless, downed power lines and scattered trees for miles. Also left wandering helplessly on the streets of South Florida: pets. In an effort to help reunite lost pets with their owners, the Miami-Dade Animal ...

Google News

Defend Your Dog and Stop that Hurting Paw!

Of course, we humans use shoes to protect our feet.... Read More

Dog Vomiting? Help Your Dog Now

In most cases you should not be too concerned about... Read More

Is YOUR Child Ready for a Dog?

Are you considering buying a dog for your child or... Read More

Surprising Health Benefits for Pet Owners

Did you know that there are key health benefits that... Read More

Treating Dog Arthritis With Natural Supplements

Dog arthritis is one of the most common diseases that... Read More

Using Electrolytes to Avoid Equine Dehydration

For heat dissipation and body cooling, a horse trotting at... Read More

Okay Lets Do A Poodle Again

My wife and I have been married for 32 years.... Read More

Reincarnating Pets

It is always sad when a beloved animal family member... Read More

Clicker Training For Dogs: Positive Reinforcement Training

There is nothing more adorable than a new puppy. Large... Read More

A Dog Day Care Business Can Be A Lot of Fun!

If you love dogs and you enjoy making money then... Read More

Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)

What is Canine Hip Dysplasia?Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) is a... Read More

Do You Know About Boxer Dogs?

Boxer Dogs Information - What Are Boxer Dogs? Boxer dogs... Read More

Five Snake Care Tips for Beginners

If you're looking for an unusual, eye-catching pet, it's hard... Read More

Christmas Gifts For Cat Lovers

The act of offering Christmas gifts is always enhanced if... Read More

How to Choose a Pet

Did you know that pets outnumber people in the United... Read More

Dogs & Kids: Happy Together

Dogs and kids, it's a combination that at it's best... Read More

PH Levels in The Discus Tank

Because it is imperative that discus fish have optimal water... Read More

Why Should We Get Kittens as Pets?

Kittens are and have always been adorable creatures. Of course,... Read More

What You Need To Know To Keep Your Dog Safe In Your Car

Man's Best Friend is a great companion around the home,... Read More

Dog Training -What You Should Keep In Mind When Playing With Your Dog

Dogs, especially young dogs are very playful by nature.Play provides... Read More

Dog Pile - Please Pick It Up

I really do not hope your are eating something, but... Read More

Dealing With Canine Ringworm

Ringworm is an annoying, highly contagious fungal disorder that is... Read More

Animal Behavior: What is My Dog Saying?

Dogs are quite amiable creatures. Much like our human counterparts,... Read More

Train Your Dog To Be Your Frisbee Playing Buddy

On the surface playing Frisbee with your dog may seem... Read More

Dog Training For Beginners

Training a dog is a fairly difficult task. Some find... Read More