I read a fascinating newsletter this morning, written by a scientist who has conducted research to prove that animals have well-developed language skills. As the owner of two cats with obvious social and communication skills, I know that pets try very hard to communicate with their human family members. Animals can “speak,” if only we have the hearts and minds to “hear” them.
Professor Con Slobodchikoff has conducted extensive research into the vocalizations of prairie dogs. His findings indicate that prairie dogs use a variety of sounds to alert each other about potential dangers from predators approaching their burrows.
These animals use different and distinctive sounds to warn about dogs, coyotes, hawks, humans or other potential predators. They use special sounds to categorize their alerts based on whether the predator is approaching on foot or from the air. His research also suggests that their alarm calls include signals about proximity or the physical characteristics of individual predators, such as different colors. His book on what he has learned about animal language will appear later this fall: Chasing Doctor Doolittle, November 2012.
While my cats have a relatively limited vocabulary, Professor Slobodchikoff writes that some herding dogs have learned several thousand words, and can distinguish between words they know and unknown words based on their actions in research trials.
Professor Slobodchikoff also speculates on the possibility of future pet-owner translation devices, so we can more clearly understand each other. There are many potential applications, from the mundane to the important: from “Clean up my litterbox, or I’ll leave something nasty on your floor” to alerts about specific intruders or warning a family member that the dog can smell cancer cells (which research has proven is possible).
I look forward to the day when pets and owners can understand each other, so pets will feel less inclined to act out and misbehave when their owners persist in ignoring what the pet wants to convey.