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Thread: Do animals understand Human Speech?

  1. #1 Do animals understand Human Speech? 
    Forum Professor scoobydoo1's Avatar
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    Hi people, I was wondering if some kind learned person here might point me in the direction of any science journals/articles where they study whether animals understand human speech.

    My primary questions would be.

    1. Do animals (like pets or farm animals) understand human speech and/or body language?
    2. How does the different languages (English, French, German, Mandarin, etc) factor into the above question.
    3. If animals do indeed understand human speech and/or body language, does it mean animals from different countries may not understand a different country's language (example: a pet dog from America/Britain if brought to France or China, may not understand the local languages there)?

    Any help would be much appreciated.


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  3. #2  
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    I don't have a journal article readily available to offer, but the show NOVA on the US channel PBS recently did a program on dogs... and yes, they understand quite well (as I am sure so too do other animals).


    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-decoded.html

    "Dogs Decoded" reveals the science behind the remarkable bond between humans and their dogs and investigates new discoveries in genetics that are illuminating the origin of dogs—with surprising implications for the evolution of human culture. Other research is proving what dog lovers have suspected all along: Dogs have an uncanny ability to read and respond to human emotions. Humans, in turn, respond to dogs with the same hormone responsible for bonding mothers to their babies.

    Perhaps you can find some information to help you at the link above.


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  4. #3 Re: Do animals understand Human Speech? 
    Forum Masters Degree Twit of wit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1
    2. How does the different languages (English, French, German, Mandarin, etc) factor into the above question.
    3. If animals do indeed understand human speech and/or body language, does it mean animals from different countries may not understand a different country's language (example: a pet dog from America/Britain if brought to France or China, may not understand the local languages there)?
    Isn't the answer obvious?
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  5. #4 Re: Do animals understand Human Speech? 
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Twit of wit
    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1
    2. How does the different languages (English, French, German, Mandarin, etc) factor into the above question.
    3. If animals do indeed understand human speech and/or body language, does it mean animals from different countries may not understand a different country's language (example: a pet dog from America/Britain if brought to France or China, may not understand the local languages there)?
    Isn't the answer obvious?
    Well, not necessarily. I think the question ponders whether it's the language itself (vocabulary, intonation, syntax, etc) which matters, or if perhaps it's more about non-verbal cues, or some other similar background information. Which is more important to the animal... the words spoken, or the way they're spoken and the information which accompanies them?
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  6. #5 Re: Do animals understand Human Speech? 
    Forum Junior TheDr.Spo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Quote Originally Posted by Twit of wit
    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1
    2. How does the different languages (English, French, German, Mandarin, etc) factor into the above question.
    3. If animals do indeed understand human speech and/or body language, does it mean animals from different countries may not understand a different country's language (example: a pet dog from America/Britain if brought to France or China, may not understand the local languages there)?
    Isn't the answer obvious?
    Well, not necessarily. I think the question ponders whether it's the language itself (vocabulary, intonation, syntax, etc) which matters, or if perhaps it's more about non-verbal cues, or some other similar background information. Which is more important to the animal... the words spoken, or the way they're spoken and the information which accompanies them?

    I have to say, keeping in mind that I'm really hammered right now, even though I have reprimanded you to great extent in the past, I respect you. I really do. I hold no hard feelings toward you due to of past posts. Reality hardly has a place in my perception at the moment. However, do not take offense to my post on a personal level. I am merely displaying the facts as they exist.
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  7. #6  
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    No worries. We all have ups and downs. I'm not exactly captain awesome all the time, either. Cheers.
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  8. #7 Re: Do animals understand Human Speech? 
    Forum Junior JennLonhon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1
    1. Do animals (like pets or farm animals) understand human speech and/or body language?
    From scientific point of view, I can't help much, but I can tell you what I know from experience. I have a dog, and to be honest, yes, i do think he can understand me. I'm not like crazy old women that talk to her cats and think they know all she's saying, but just couple days ago I told him "Don't you dare cross that line" and he didn't. I went my way, and he was still sitting there, not crossing the line. So yes, I do think he understood me, at least in some basic meaning.
    "Be the change you want to see in the world"
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  9. #8 Re: Do animals understand Human Speech? 
    Forum Masters Degree Twit of wit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Which is more important to the animal... the words spoken, or the way they're spoken and the information which accompanies them?
    I don't think it matters. It would have to be something universal for all people. Even if something like that exists it's unlikely that animals focus exactly on that and not on the words, intonation or gesture itself.
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  10. #9 animals... 
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    There is a border collie which knows some 1022 names/different objects, and can catagorize/recognize/work with context and meanings, depending on what words are given as commands. The researchers said they just didn't have time to work with her any more after three years. For simple example: a ball which is blue could be, Ball, or, blue object. The dog can hold several "ideas" in mind, as well, while working with the many objects/catagories.

    As far as body language... dogs especially, due to long association with them... but a wolf would easily recognize body language; they do it all the time. If they couldn't read their prey, they would starve. With animals, language and junk of the mind doesn't get in the way. Feeling and sensing instinctively is more their thing.

    As for differing languages... tone/intonation, circumstance in which some command would be given to elicit some behavior... would all be familiar, and no problem, unless familiar guardian/owner/companion, was switched. But a dog would learn quickly as they aren't... questioning, resenting, avoiding, being obstinate, etc. like people may be, IMO. If a food reward was in the offering, they would have no trouble, I think, and learn quickly by association. Not distracted by the mental clutter like normal humans... more generally sound and tone based than any definition or meaning in that way, I would imagine, unless specially trained like the Collie.
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  11. #10 Re: Do animals understand Human Speech? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1
    Hi people, I was wondering if some kind learned person here might point me in the direction of any science journals/articles where they study whether animals understand human speech.

    My primary questions would be.

    1. Do animals (like pets or farm animals) understand human speech and/or body language?
    2. How does the different languages (English, French, German, Mandarin, etc) factor into the above question.
    3. If animals do indeed understand human speech and/or body language, does it mean animals from different countries may not understand a different country's language (example: a pet dog from America/Britain if brought to France or China, may not understand the local languages there)?

    Any help would be much appreciated.
    initially tbey won't understand and usually misinterpet our expression.
    Elephants has been known to be able to distinct different kinds of language, specially the Masai language would cause fear in them.

    Cafe Buffalos (spelling?) has been known to distinct the behaviour of common tourists and poachers, as the tourists would stand calm and point and flail arms around, while poachers would have a much slower crouching form of movement.
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  12. #11  
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    Yes, I believe they do understand our words to a certain degree. You could live with a person that doesn't speak your language and you don't speak theirs but over time you learn to understand their meaning to their words.
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  13. #12 Teach 
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    You can teach your dog to speak while breading ! 8)
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  14. #13 Re: Teach 
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    Quote Originally Posted by svery
    You can teach your dog to speak while breading !
    I usually have better things to do while breeding, like focus on my partners desire to climax (or, did you perhaps mean while "breading" as you typed it? If so, I agree... teaching a dog to speak while kneading dough can make the time go by more quickly).
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  15. #14 Yeap 
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    Animal I predict are able to conjure up some sort of human pitch but not dialect. Studies show that conditioning of animals with reinforcements can actually give a desired behavior. Dogs for example sit at your command "sit doggy" repeated with rewards over time may alter the dogs perception of the pitch of the human voice. But I can not go as far and say that animals can comprehend the human language.
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    I think an animal rather responds to the musicality of the words
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  17. #16  
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    Hi everyone, thanks for all the input so far. I apologize for not participating the discussion till now (kinda rude I know, and I'm sorry).

    I am leaning towards the likelihood of animals being able to learn specific command words and associate these words through training and repetitive gestures similarly associated with a desired behavior by their handlers. However, I am unsure if they (animals) actually comprehend our vocabulary (especially more so when uttered in different languages and in sentences likely composed differently each time) much like how humans buildup a linguistic database learnt throughout our lives. Perhaps they (animals) read facial, gestural, vocal cues (intonation), whether intentional or otherwise, and respond with what they surmise as a desired/appropriate response and act on them (or not, if you have ever met a stubborn animal ).

    I am also leaning towards some of the more commonly seen domesticated animals (such as pets or farm animals) not being able to comprehend an entire dialogue of unfamiliar words (such as reciting poetry & abstract concepts; ie. more complex instructions to a particular destination that requires a series of left & right turns from vocal commands).

    Guide dogs are one of the examples I might bring up, but I have never encountered one. These dogs specifically are trained more extensively compared to your everyday pets/animals. But I would think that they are merely repeating behavior that are desired from them from vocal cues and simple words linked with a desired action, such as "newspaper, slipper, ball, a person's name, etc." + "fetch, bring me, go to, run, come, stay, etc."

    Associating an action word + an object/person, seems more likely from what I am able to tell (from minimal research and experience with animals; particularly dogs). But I have yet to see an "English" trained animal cross the language barrier to understand vocal commands in "Mandarin" or perhaps "French", which leads me to speculate that they (animals) are as much language bound just like you and I. Perhaps this barrier can be overcomed not through vocal given commands or speech, but through gestural cues like body language.
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  18. #17  
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    Quote Originally Posted by mlegs
    I think an animal rather responds to the musicality of the words
    Once had a dog ..spoiled rotten, but once I asked the dog to "find mom" while it's never been trained to track, it would try to find my mom, so imo it will understand human speech if been exposed to it for long period of time.
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  19. #18  
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    I am also curious as to what level of understanding animals have.
    In the book Smiling Bears the author, a zookeeper, mentioned an anecdote where, when they had to call the animals into the indoor enclosures and one of the two bears refused to listen. In frustration she yelled to the obedient bear something along the lines of "can you get her?" (very roughly paraphrased-can't find the book at the moment); to the author's amazement that bear apparently understood, as she left, and then herded the disobedient bear into the indoor enclosure.

    Under the assumption that the above is all accurate, I would guess that the bear understood that they were all supposed to enter (as they were trained to do so), and could thus guess at the cause of the frustration of the zookeeper.
    That bear also acted like the mother of the other (she apparently adopted the other once the other bear's mother died), and thus such behavior (retrieving a "cub") may have been fairly natural as well.

    EDIT:
    I have also heard of a case where someone thought that he had taught his horse how to do arithmetic and after being told the problem it would start stamping its hoof until it stamped the appropriate number of times (for 2+2 it would stamp 4 times, etc).
    When this claim was actually put to a serious test it was discovered that the horse actually just stomped repeatedly until it saw an accidental cue from the trainer's body language that he gave off (likely in excitement) once the horse stomped the correct number of times.
    When the trainer and horse were separated, the horse would simply go on stomping.

    I think it is an interesting note that studies have found that domestic dogs (thanks to their co-evolution alongside us humans) can read and understand our body language better than chimps can.
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  20. #19  
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    Aping language
    JOEL WALLMAN

    this is a good overview of primate studies. I think the conclusion is that even apes can't really understand language, unless you mean that if you scream No! they understand your angry. Syntax, reference and many other things are beyond the animal remit except perhaps in the most limited domains.
    There is also a book by Taylor called Not a Chimp - I dont think its a good treatment of the topic though.
    If you intend to take this far may I suggest you also take in some studies as to how children acquire language - this may help you realise the questions that need to be answered. Research Folk physics and folk psychology, these may not be language but it is necessary to have a grasp of these before one can truly understand a dialogue in a natural language.
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  21. #20  
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    Wallbrick made a comment about elephants- I think there was an elephant who did not respond to a trainers commands because his previous home was in Poland so he only understood polish. That might just be a movie though.
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    One should be very wary about anecdotal evidence in this field as we are virtually compelled to anthropomorphise our experience with animals, by the nature of our psyche. We are unable to be consistently vigilent in this respect. We anthropomorphise bits of cloth as cuddly teddy bears, and see Mickey 'mouse' as if it was a mouse.
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  23. #22  
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    Hello Rooby,

    Your question is really a very very big question for all. But i will say YES, animal can understand our language but i cann't say about different language. But sometimes it happens. We have to accept it.

    Regards,
    Hersal Gibs
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  24. #23  
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    Ever heard of animal psychics?
    Imagination is key to the logic of thought, a greatest eternal truth.

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  25. #24  
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    I think all creatures have high intelligence at some level. Some are closer to each other and are able to communicate to some extent.

    It's not so much the level of intelligence of the creature, but more the dimension of the intelligence that allows communication. We're much more likely to communicate with a dog than an ant but, ants definitely communicate....just not with us.
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  26. #25  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Suspiciousmind
    We're much more likely to communicate with a dog than an ant but, ants definitely communicate....just not with us.
    Sure, they do. Ever been bitten by a fire ant? I'm pretty sure he's trying to tell me to go the hell away.
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    Both my dogs have a spelling vocabulary of about 10 words. This started quite by accident, but I worked at using Latin for some commands with success. Around these two pups? Never use the sacred spelling : B-Y-E- B-Y-E if you value your ability to stand up...

    If breed means anything, they are Malamutes. They are nearly 11 and love Italian cuisine.
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  28. #27  
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    Probably the best example of an animal understanding human words is the African grey parrot. This parrot is probably the most linguistically able parrot species. Excellent at mimicry. However, there are a few rare cases of these birds not only learning to mimic human speech, but to understand a number of words and use them meaningfully. In this sense, the African grey parrot is the most accomplished at human speech, both understanding and using, of any animal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_(parrot)
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  29. #28  
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    African grey parrots are almost scarily intelligent birds. I once saw a woman with an african grey shopping in a busy market. The bird was unrestrained, riding on the woman's shoulder. When the woman stopped to purchase something , the parrot walked down her arm to the counter top, looked over the merchadise then when the transaction was completed walked back up her mistress' arm to her place on her shoulder. All without any noticable commands.

    The down side of all that intelligence is a vulnerablity to psychiatic disorders caused by human indifference and abuse.
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  30. #29  
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    Yes, many animals understand language. Or at least certain concepts that can be expressed verbally. Anybody here have a pet that knows when you're being playful, and when you're being serious? It definitely has more to do with the actual words than the tone. Though I will admit animals also understand the tones as well. Sometimes when I feel like tormenting one of my parents' dog, I'll say something like 'treat' but I'll say it in a stern voice. She still get's excited for a treat, but she also looks a little confused - because she knows a treat is coming, but she doesn't understand why I'm using the 'bad-dog' tone. So I'd say tone is somewhat important.

    You'd actually be surprised at how intelligent dogs are. This particular dog, the one I previously mentioned, is kind of... Weird. I haven't really noticed with my parents' other dogs, but this one in particular, Snowflake, goes nutty when she observes something that isn't according to her concept of an ordinary day. If my parents are packing bags, she knows something is different. Usually she'll go sit in the corner of a room and stare at the wall. Or she'll bug them incessantly. My theory is, she gets sad/worried that they're leaving - and either pouts about it or tries to make sure they don't forget her. Every so often she'll do the whole 'hide in the corner thing' if gets in trouble.


    Denver Official Guilty! Dog Video www.facebook.com/guiltydog - YouTube
    ^ An example of an exchange between a man and his pet dog... The dog has got to know what's going on.

    Now if you want to get crazy into animals/language.. I'd suggest you do some research on Corvids. I listened to a program on CBC radio awhile ago that went into Raven intelligence in great length. It's beginning to become evident that many types of Corvids, especially crows/ravens, have some sort of method of communication that can almost be called languages. They have dialects, specific sounds to convey specific meanings, etc. Really cool stuff. Here's a link that might have more info about it (sorry that it's also the website for some guys book or something like that, it's the only one I have time to find right now).

    Language of the American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos.
    "Cultivated leisure is the aim of man."
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  31. #30  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Suspiciousmind View Post
    I think all creatures have high intelligence at some level. Some are closer to each other and are able to communicate to some extent.

    It's not so much the level of intelligence of the creature, but more the dimension of the intelligence that allows communication. We're much more likely to communicate with a dog than an ant but, ants definitely communicate....just not with us.
    I would say that ants get feedback from us in that I had a ant line coming from the front door, along the wall to my cat's feeding dish so I started to kill them. The next day I thought they were gone until I looked more closely at the floor and noticed that the ant colony did not go away, they had sent in the smaller ants to retrieve the food for the larger ants. I was so impressed with this new tactic that I didn't have the heart to kill them.
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    I (think) that a fairly high % of American Police dogs, are dogs purchased or trained in germany.

    And when American Police Officers give these dogs commands, the US police officers speak to these dogs in the german language.

    I would assume that these Police Officers speak to the dogs in English during the day saying "good girl" "good boy" ex. ex.

    But when they command the dog to attack, or smell for drugs (they speak to the dog in the german language.)

    This could maybe help answer your question #3.
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    Many will underestimate animals, Koko the Gorilla was shown to be a very intelligent being, constructing own words like "All Ball" for her pet cat. Making up excuses to dodge eberressing situations, etc.

    Dogs and specially pigs are very intelligent.
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  34. #33  
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    I think dogs understand more than we realize. I would love to get a police dog from Germany. I met an a local Swat officer and he said they got the police dogs from Germany.

    Perhaps we need to understand the dogs more.

    Maybe there should be a "Rosetta Stone" program for barking.

    However, I think with ants, the intelligence is in how they interact that allows them to adapt. Individual ants are probably not very intelligent. Collectively, the ants are smart. The key for us is to see what "rules for interaction" we can use to enable our own collective intelligence.
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  35. #34  
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    Quote Originally Posted by dedo View Post
    I think dogs understand more than we realize. I would love to get a police dog from Germany. I met an a local Swat officer and he said they got the police dogs from Germany.

    Perhaps we need to understand the dogs more.

    Maybe there should be a "Rosetta Stone" program for barking.

    However, I think with ants, the intelligence is in how they interact that allows them to adapt. Individual ants are probably not very intelligent. Collectively, the ants are smart. The key for us is to see what "rules for interaction" we can use to enable our own collective intelligence.
    You state the ants are smart collectively but this also applies to humans too. Did you not learn by your years of education, your job, special interests? The information that is taught was done collectively by human interaction. Individually we are not very smart if we were alone in the environment without any other human interaction.
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  36. #35  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barbi View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by dedo View Post
    I think dogs understand more than we realize. I would love to get a police dog from Germany. I met an a local Swat officer and he said they got the police dogs from Germany.

    Perhaps we need to understand the dogs more.

    Maybe there should be a "Rosetta Stone" program for barking.

    However, I think with ants, the intelligence is in how they interact that allows them to adapt. Individual ants are probably not very intelligent. Collectively, the ants are smart. The key for us is to see what "rules for interaction" we can use to enable our own collective intelligence.
    You state the ants are smart collectively but this also applies to humans too. Did you not learn by your years of education, your job, special interests? The information that is taught was done collectively by human interaction. Individually we are not very smart if we were alone in the environment without any other human interaction.
    Of course we have some ability to be "smart collectively". I am saying that our collective intelligence is not developed compared to the ants as a percentage of our individual intelligence.

    Look at the world you live in. Are we "collectively" doing, or even "individually" doing the best we could do? No.

    Ants have the ability to use their intelligence in an additive fashion very quickly. Few humans can do this. Look around at discussions. How often do you see people additively seek an answer to something. It is rare. Rather we seem to be drawn in an almost addictive fashion to perpetuate a hierarchical, top-down, social conditioning. This conditioning makes most people strive with all their strength to become "the parent", "the teacher", "the smart one", etc. So in an almost addictive fashion, people will debate, correct, or on a good day, teach.

    Except for successful entrepreneurs, people rarely combine their intelligence like the ants do.
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  37. #36  
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    Quick note, imo developing human speech by itself(or understanding it even if you dont speak), with words, concept and abstractions and vocalization, structures our thought processes in ways that are probably foreign to animals without a comparable language. I think it adds a layer of thought or a mental tool that early humans and animals did not have access to. A dog can learn to associate words, signs and gestures with specific aspects of its environment/event/things it can relate to, but it will never ever have any idea what "unconstitutional" means (nor can a 1 year old human, nor a 2 year old). On the other hand to know the potential of a dog, one would have to create a kindergarten - primary school program for dogs and see what is their limits (something similar has probably already been done). Yet it makes something we take for granted seam not so trivial after all, the ability of toddlers to pick up language by listening to their parents. I had heard that human brain develops until the age of about 25, which provides a long amount of time to be in prime learning mode, where as many animals I suspect probably stabilize in a short time, like a year, which if compared to a 1 year old human baby is not too bad what they can learn in that short time span, but human toddlers though dependent and inept at 1 year continue their development for many years to come and overtake other animals and keep going.
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    There is a saying that goes like this, "Talk is cheap, actions speak louder then words." Cats and dogs are more successful in reading our body language and moods then relying on the words we speak. What little words they do understand is pretty amazing since they do not have the ability for speech. Evolution would not evolve them to speak since if it did, most owners of these animals would not keep them if their animals could speak and expose their secrets.
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    Quote Originally Posted by chad View Post
    I (think) that a fairly high % of American Police dogs, are dogs purchased or trained in germany.

    And when American Police Officers give these dogs commands, the US police officers speak to these dogs in the german language.

    I would assume that these Police Officers speak to the dogs in English during the day saying "good girl" "good boy" ex. ex.

    But when they command the dog to attack, or smell for drugs (they speak to the dog in the german language.)

    This could maybe help answer your question #3.
    Associating vocalized/gestural commands with desired action & objects in English is something we humans have learnt and are continuing to learn throughout our lives.

    "Pick up (action) the ball (object)" for instance is one such example.

    While we may understand such a command spoken in the English language without any visual-gestural cues for the subject to act on. Repeating this again in a totally foreign language without any visual-gestural cues might leave the subject confused. However, if a vocal command accompanied with a gestural cue (like pointing towards to ball) were to be given, perhaps it might alleviate the language barrier, and in time learn to associate those alien sound words with a desired action and object.

    If this is true for both humans, am I right to say that language might be a barrier for animals as well as humans? Also, does this point towards a common learning process that both we humans and animals possess?
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    Quote Originally Posted by dedo View Post
    Look at the world you live in. Are we "collectively" doing, or even "individually" doing the best we could do? No.
    By what standard. By biological standards we are thus far extremely successful--not only spreading to just about every surface environment of the planet, displacing every competitor, and enjoying incredible reproductive success.

    In addition to ability to abstract is the ability to do recursive thinking. A marmot might well be able to learn, abstract and visualize in it's brain the idea of a particular call to a hawk flying overhead and another sign to a fox--each of which leads to a different behavior--essentially one level of recursion. But you couldn't describe a hawk ("high flying big bird overhead!)" and get a marmot to understand.
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    "I'll teach my dog 100 words," says the boy in the children's story of the same name. But can he really? Dog owners love to gush about canine intelligence. So it would come as no surprise to them that research supports their beliefs that dogs have a profound mental capacity. But how much of our language do dogs really understand? It turns out that the language comprehension of some dogs rivals that of apes and parrots, not to mention the average 3-year-old.
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    Sure, most dogs understand the basics --"fetch," "sit" and "stay." But if you have the motivation and patience, you will probably be able to teach your dog even more than 100 words. Stanley Coren, a psychologist who has performed a significant amount of research on the subject of dog intelligence, suggests that average trained dogs know about 160 words [source:Coren]. Some dogs even show a vocabulary as vast as a human toddler's.
    Since at least the 1970s, when researchers successfully trained chimpanzees to use and read words in sign language, we have known that language, in a loose sense of the term, is not unique to humans. Animals have the brain power to understand human language and use their own languages in surprisingly profound ways. We all know parrots can be trained to speak human words. And dogs will react to the word "walk" with a knowing, tail-wagging enthusiasm.
    How deep is the dog's bank of human words? On the next page, we'll take a look at one border collie's remarkable talent at retrieving objects of different names.
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    1. Do animals (like pets or farm animals) understand human speech and/or body language?
    2. How does the different languages (English, French, German, Mandarin, etc) factor into the above question.
    3. If animals do indeed understand human speech and/or body language, does it mean animals from different countries may not understand a different country's language (example: a pet dog from America/Britain if brought to France or China, may not understand the local languages there)?
    Dogs understand tone of voice and body language (and context). And not much else. For example, if I tell my dog to "sit" in English, Russian, Japanese or Gibberish he will do it. To get an idea about how good animals are at picking up subtle signals from people, look up Clever Hans.

    People can be equally good at picking up these subtle signs as well, which is how "psychics" manage to con money out of the gullible and desperate.
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    It seems I may be wrong (not the first time): Do dogs get a ruff deal, linguistically speaking? « Sentence first
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    As a pet owner of more than 45 years with various animals, I can say with no doubt, they understand several sets of words they are exposed to.
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    I think one of the problems here is assuming that all animals are a homogeneous group (within their species). Just as not all humans are the same, not all animals are the same - I have had some cats that have been able to work out that the door opens inwards so they sit a way back from the door to be let out and some cats that have never understood that and sit with their noses pressed to the door.

    If you want to see some really interesting perspectives of what animals see/learn/comprehend of the world around them have a look at this lady's work - Temple Grandin Temple Grandin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - as a person who couldn't communicate with humans well herself she offered the unique perspective of seeing the animals world as they see it ..... in pictures.

    In my humble opinion, intelligence is being able to negotiate the world you live in successfully and in that respect most animals have more intelligence than we do because they negotiate and adapt to a world that we have built with ease (something a lot of us struggle with). I think we also make the mistake of the "great" White Victorian gentlemen who assumed the natives were savage and unintelligent because they didn't speak English.....it never occurred to them that they were savage and unintelligent for not speaking the natives language......we seem to think still that animals are a lesser species because they don't understand our ways, intentions and language and yet from their perspective few of us understand their ways/intentions and language.

    Their intelligence shouldn't be measured by how well they communicate with us or compared to us - their intelligence should be measured within the context of their own world.
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    There are apes that learnt sign language and had a vocabulary of hundreds of words. So the answer is yes, they can.

    And in the wild, without human interaction, there are animals such as prairie dogs that have an actual native grammatical language.

    It is very human ("Sun shines out of our ass") to claim these things are false or misinterpreted.
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    Scoobydoo #38
    However, if a vocal command accompanied with a gestural cue (like pointing towards to ball) were to be given, perhaps it might alleviate the language barrier, and in time learn to associate those alien sound words with a desired action and object.

    If this is true for both humans, am I right to say that language might be a barrier for animals as well as humans? Also, does this point towards a common learning process that both we humans and animals possess?
    This is where dogs come into their own. There was quite a flurry of documentaries on this (some time a year or two ago). The big difference between dogs and other 'communicating' animals is that they understand our gestures both with and without spoken commands. If you play some of those hide the toy games with dogs, as against chimps as an example, they will understand pointing with the hand and they will also respond to the trainer/ researcher merely looking in the object's direction.

    No one has yet found another animal that can do this. If you point to indicate something to a chimp, they might look at your hand or your face but they never follow the direction you're 'indicating'. If you direct your gaze for the same reason, they might look around to see what you're looking at but they don't pick it up as a signal for solving the puzzle.

    IIRC, the program I saw this in was arguing fairly strongly that humans and dogs co-evolved. The original wolf (and fox for that matter) strains were already pretty clever animals and umpty thousand years of cooperative activity with humans has apparently had a big effect on which dog strains, and then breeds, we've favoured for various purposes.
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    Perhaps a canine sense of "pointing direction" may have evolved without human involvement. Wolves are pack animals, and one can see the evolutionary advantage a wolf would gain by being able to indicate direction to its pack mates.
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    I have worked with sled dogs and horses for many years. We use voice, body position and positive reinforcement as well as a considerable amount of repetition and conditioned response to introduce the tasks and situations that we would like these animals to assist us with. Both horses and dogs are capable of learning a significant vocabulary and desired responses and some individuals seem to learn how to initiate dialogue in return by making us aware of their cues and desires.

    My preference has always been for dogs and horses that are interested in and observant of my activities and I have found these animals to be the easiest to teach and interact with. These animals have also been willing to transpose their trust and training to the people that I have instructed in equitation and dog driving.

    The herding breeds are fascinating to me in how they work in the field in response to whistles and voice commands from their handler and some might enjoy this video with David Lee Roth.

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    Its so good to see animals and humans enjoying each others company - thanks for that.
    "And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh" Nietzsche.
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