A new study that involved training 13 dogs to lie motionless inside an MRI machine for long periods of time found the family pets “probably understand words” especially the ones that we say in tones of praise and affection.
All of which makes me wonder, if we can train a dog to lie in an MRI machine for hours at a time, why can’t eight different technicians fix my cable when it goes out every other day?
Maybe we could train the dogs to work on it. That’s a good boy. Yes um is. Now get up that pole and boost that signal.
The reaction to the report in “Science” magazine has been mixed. Some scholars say the findings of a team of Hungarian neuroscientists is much ado about nothing (dogs have always answered simple commands and responded favorably to loving language) but others say this is just the beginning of really communicating with dogs, who, fortunately, speak the same language as their owners. The study didn’t confirm this but I am guessing that regional accents are part of the communication study. For example, if a dog is from the American South, he might respond favorably to his human’s announcement that “I’m fixin’ to feed you.” While a dog from the Northeast or Central Plains might simply be confused by such a statement and resume eating your shoes.
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While all of this is interesting, at the end of the day, it’s still going to be a one sided convo. I could pour out my heart to Rover and he’s never going to talk back. Unless we’ve both had waaay too much to drink, of course.
If the research is accurate, you can pour out your deepest secrets and fears to your dog and know that they are heard and understood like going to a therapist. Best part? No copay. Worst part? Occasional break for your “therapist” to lick his naughties while you’re sharing.
This could be extremely useful for unburdening without judgement. If you have something truly awful to confess like, say, you bludgeoned your serial cheater of a boyfriend to death and dumped his body in an abandoned rock quarry or you’re planning to vote for Trump, talk to the paw.
If dogs really do understand human conversation, we should probably be more careful how we speak around them. We should try to avoid saying phrases like “vet appointment” or “long ride in the country” or “going to the fireworks show” or “big thunderstorm approaching”. These are, to use popular parlance in universities these days: “trigger words.” The dog will react negatively, perhaps all over your carpet.
Although not everyone’s on board with the research, further studies are planned to determine whether or not a dog can differentiate tone. In other words, can the dog tell when you’re saying something that’s actually a little mean or harsh but you’re saying it in a pleasant tone? My guess: The Southern dogs will be especially good at this, bless their hearts.
Celia Rivenbark is the New York Times best-selling author of “Rude B****** Make Me Tired.” Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.