Dog Dialogue

pastaI communicate with my dog all the time. We make eye contact, use hand (and paw) signals, and even talk to each other.

I know it sounds silly, and many people believe that non-human animals can't communicate the way we do, but surely anyone who's ever had a pet dog understands what I mean?

Like most effective communication, our rapport has built-up over many years, and the vocabulary of words, gestures and facial expressions we use has become increasingly complex. We started with simple people-dog stuff like "No!" and "Sit", and gradually progressed to the ability to communicate in sentences, and even anticipate one another's actions.

We use some English, some Japanese, some of both together. For example, here's a partial list of words and short commands (English and Japanese as applicable) Pasta understands:

  • bone (骨 in, a treat/ snack)
  • bye (worried she's being left behind while everyone else goes to have fun, she'll run to catch up)
  • cat (猫...she was scratched on the nose by a kitten when she was a puppy, so she's cautious around cats)
  • chicken (as in food)
  • come/ come here
  • dog (犬)
  • down (as in, get down)
  • duck (鳥)
  • finished (in relation to food...therefore she dislikes hearing this word)
  • fish (as in food)
  • gecko (she likes watching them run across walls and ceilings)
  • go
  • go back (she actually walks backwards)
  • going out? (そと?)
  • heel
  • let's go (行く? or 散歩?)
  • lie (as in lie down)
  • lizard (she enjoys chasing lizards up trees, so long as they're smaller than she is and therefore harmless)
  • move (as in, "move out of the way" when she's sleeping on my bed and there's no space for me)
  • no (駄目)
  • ok
  • 留守番 (wait alone at home)
  • rope (rope toy she played with when she was a puppy, not so much now)
  • さて (no English equivalent)
  • stay (待って)
  • sit
  • up
  • where? (どこ?)

Beyond simple words, Pasta seems somehow to have developed a grasp of basic grammar structure for simple sentences relevant to things that are important to her. Here are a few sentence structures we use frequently to communicate:

  • Do you want to...fill in action? (She understands most dog-related action words inserted in this sentence, her favourite being "go outside")
  • It's raining outside. (She hates this sentence, but she looks outside to double check)
  • What do you want to do?
  • What do you want to eat?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • Who's there? Who's that?
  • Where is...fill in name? (Assuming she knows the person, she'll search for that specific person and ignore everyone else)
  • What's this? (Said in stern tone when she does something wrong. Pasta then tucks her tail between her legs and looks very guilty.)

She recognises names of people, and of course, of her dog friends:

  • Bailey (hyperactive white golden retriever, with whom she engaged in some mischief involving a bag of multi-coloured jellybeans)
  • Bingo (chocolate labrador who loves chasing cats)
  • Nana (white golden retriever she played with when she was a puppy)

And finally, "dialogue" is a two-way concept. Over the years, she's trained me with some of her own words and phrases too, though my comprehension of dog vocabulary falls short of her understanding of people vocabulary:

  • One bark - Open the door and let me out or let me in, as the case may be
  • Two barks - Hurry up!
  • High pitched whine accompanied by pleading look - Help me negotiate with this mean cat.
  • Long sigh accompanied by look of disgust - I'm bored stiff.
  • Single paw on my knee, leg, etc. - Give me some of that food.
  • Two paws on my knee, leg, etc. - Give me some of that food NOW.
  • Big, pleading innocent eye look - Who me? I didn't do anything.

Ok, enough silly talk. Here's a short video of Pasta playing in the snow...

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