Earlier this week, I asked – only semi-whimsically — if the day might come when dogs start speaking, actually speaking.
I wondered what dogs might say, and whether, once dogs became verbal, we humans would actually listen, as opposed to just giggling and taking video and posting it on YouTube.
It would probably be far in the future when that happens — and only assuming we humans can keep the planet together that long.
But it’s not too early to start thinking about it, at least semi-whimsically, including the very real possibility that – given dogs tend to reflect us more and more as time goes by — they could end up talking to us as we’ve been talking to them all these years.
And wouldn’t that be awful?
These, as I see it, are the two worst-case scenarios:
One, they will be bossy-assed nags, telling us, far more often than necessary, what to do: “No!” “Stop that!” “Leave it!” Hush!” “Get down!” “Sit!” “Stay!”
Two, they will be sappy, high-pitched baby talkers: “You’re such a cute human. Yes, you are! You’re the cutest little mushy face human in the world, with your mushy-mush-mush little face. It’s the mushiest little face I ever did see. Yes it is! You’re a good little human. Aren’t you? Yes! Yee-ess! Yes you are!”
Those, while annoying extremes, are highly common approaches when it comes to how we humans speak to our dogs.
Some of us are order-dispensing dictators who only talk to our dogs when issuing commands.
Some of us are babblers, spewing a non-stop stream of syrupy praise and meaningless drivel.
A lot of us are both, myself included, especially in the privacy of my home. Sometimes, I have to stop myself from saying things like “Who’s the handsomest dog in the land? Who’s a big boy? Who’s a genius? Ace is. Yes, Acey is.”
Sometimes, I realize several days have gone by when the only words I’ve voiced to Ace are orders, at which point I lapse into baby talk to make up for it.
He is probably convinced I am passive-aggressive, if not bi-polar.
There are, thankfully, some in-betweens when it comes to talking to one’s dog, and one of our favorite dog writers — by which we mean a human who writes about dogs — took a look at some of those variations in an essay posted recently on TheDodo.com, a website that looks at how we can better understand animals and improve our relationships with them.
Alexandra Horowitz is the author of “Inside of a Dog” and runs the the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has spent 15 years studying what dogs might be trying to say to us, but recently she did some cursory research into what we say to them.
“… (O)ver the last months I have been doing some top-secret quasi-science. That is, I’ve been gathering data in my neighborhood in New York City by eavesdropping on the things people say to their dogs. Humans are a species which anthropomorphizes dogs to incredible degrees (as can be attested to by anyone who has seen a pug forced to dress like Winston Churchill). Sure, we know they aren’t really small, furry people (well, most of us seem to know this), but great numbers of people would willingly attest to their dogs being “their children” — or at least claim to think of them as members of their family. But do we really treat them like little people? I figured that some clue to that would come in how we speak to them.”
Horowitz did some eavesdropping on people out with their dogs in public, making notes of the one-sided conversations she overheard at parks and on sidewalks.
“And, oh, there were many utterances: on every walk I’ve taken in the last months, on a commute, to the store, or out with my own pups, I encountered people with dogs. Some pass silently, but many are in apparent constant dialogue with the pup at the end of the leash. What the dog-talk I’ve gathered shows is not how much we talk to dogs, nor the percentage of people who do so talk, but the kinds of things we say to dogs.”
She wrote that, based on what she heard, how we talk to dogs falls into five categories:
1. The “Almost Realistic,” or talking to a dog as if he mostly understands what you are saying (with grown-up words, but not words so big he needs a dictionary), as in “Do you want another treat?” (The question that never needs asking.)
2. “Momentarily Confusing Dog With A 2-Year-Old Kid,” as in “Who wants a treatie-weetie? Who does? Who? Who?” (For some reason, no matter how old dogs get, many of us keep talking to them this way, probably because it makes their tails wag.)
3. “Assuming Extravagant Powers Of Understanding:” This is another one I engage in simply because you never know how much they might be taking in: “C’mon Ace, we’re going to stop at the drug store, visit grandma, and go to the park. The duration of the last stop might be limited, because Doppler radar says a storm might be approaching the area.
4. “Totally Inexplicable:” The example Horowitz cites is “Be a man.” (That’s a phrase that bugs me almost as much as “man up” and, worse yet, ”grow a pair.” I think a man is the last thing a dog should want to be, and for man to tell a dog to “grow a pair” is just too full of irony to even comment on. I have no problem, however, with “Grow a pear,” and consider it to be legitimate advice.)
5. “Ongoing (One-way) Conversation:” These are those non-stop talkers who conduct a monologue as they walk through the park with their dogs, as in, “Let’s go down the hill and see if your friend Max is there. It would be nice to see Max, wouldn’t it? Remember the time you and Max went swimming? What fun you had. Speaking of fun, do you want to play some tug of war when we get back home? Oh look, there’s Max!”
As Horowitz notes, all of us dog-talkers, and especially that last group, are really talking to ourselves, providing an ongoing narrative of what we are doing and what’s going on in our heads. We are thinking out loud, and our dogs are the victims/beneficiaries of that.
“We talk to dogs not as if they are people, but as if they are the invisible person inside of our own heads. Our remarks to them are our thoughts, articulated… Many of our thoughts while we walk our dogs are not so profound, but they are a running commentary on our days, which serves to lend meaning to ordinary activities …”
(Sounds kind of like Facebook, doesn’t it?)
As with that earlier post that got me started talking about dog talking, this one reminds me of a song, too. I used it in a video I made for a photo exhibit about Baltimore dogs a few years back. The song is called “Talkin’ to the Dog.”
Posted by John Woestendiek January 24th, 2014 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, animals, babbling, baby talk, behavior, cognition, commands, communication, dog, dog cognition lab, dog talk, dogs, dogs talking, echo, evolution, evolve, future, habits, how we talk to dogs, humans, interaction, listening, mimicry, orders, parks, pets, public, speak, speaking, streets, styles, talking, talking dogs, talking to dogs, talking to the dog, the dodo.com, thedodo, thoughts, traits, verbal, voice, what we say to dogs, words
So he played a big role in getting a nation hooked on cigarettes. So he was the richest man in the state of North Carolina. So he was the sort of fat cat businessman from whom I tend to initially withhold respect — based on my automatic assumption that they had to crush a lot of butts on their way to the top of whatever heap they are on.
I wanted to hate him — for being the father of my addiction, for the fact that I can’t finish this blog entry without taking a break for one of his products — but, after a little research, I think I almost like R.J. Reynolds, and, even more, the estate he left behind.
Ace and I hang out there at least once a week — roaming the 130 acres that were part of his 1,000-plus acre country home, known as Reynolda.
But what we like best are the hiking trails that take you through thick woods and open meadows, rich with wildflowers and wildlife, past beds of pine needles and vines of honeysuckle so pungently sweet they penetrate even a smoker’s jaundiced nostrils.
I got my start in cigarettes at, probably, age 16, pilfering Salems from my mother. Then I moved on to unfiltered Pall Malls — also a R.J. Reynolds brand, and also pilfered, in this case from a neighbor.
I remember my mother used to put her Salems in little ceramic holders. The little cups with a dozen or so cigarettes in them could be found around the house, serving almost as decorations. She didn’t smoke them that often, and when she did, she didn’t inhale.
I did — first her throat-searing menthols, then the neighbor’s filterless Pall Malls, before working my way up to Marlboros; those, after all, were perceived as the most manly, and didn’t leave you spitting out little pieces of tobacco.
Like most smokers, I ponder quitting at least weekly, most recently last week as I walked the trails of Reynolda, past a vine of honeysuckle that was leaning out into the path, the tiny tendrils of its blossom waving in the wind, like beckoning index fingers.
If only I could be hooked on honeysuckle, I thought. If only its sweet essence could be inhaled. Then I realized that’s exactly what I was doing. As I wondered if honeysuckle might be my salvation, I realized, if somebody studied it enough, honeysuckle could turn out to be bad for us too (though I don’t see how something with “honey” and “suckle” in its name possibly could).
Then too — even if honeysuckle did satiate that urge, and even if I harvested my own and came up with a smokeless way to imbibe it — it would still lack that ease of use that plays such a big role in getting us hooked.
It was R.J. Reynolds who made smoking so convenient.
Reynold was born in Virginia to a tobacco-growing, slave-owning family. He attended two colleges, one of them in Baltimore, and went to work for his father before striking out on his own.
In 1874, he moved to what’s now Winston-Salem to start his own tobacco company. He started his own tobacco company in what was then Winston. There were 15 other tobacco companies in town, but his outgrew them all.
Reynolds was an astute businessman and a hard worker, and he quickly became a wealthy man. He married a woman 30 years his junior, his former secretary Mary Katherine Smith, who, historical accounts suggest, helped bring out his progressive and philanthropic sides.
She successfully urged him to shorten the work hours of employees, pay them more and provide them with meals, schools and nursery services.
When he built what would become Reynolda House, he also had a village constructed nearby where workers could live. It’s now called Reynolda Village, a collection of restaurants and shops. Also on the grounds, golf being his passion, he commissioned a 9-hole golf course, which now serves as the grassy meadow where Ace likes to romp, or just rest.
He also granted endowments to Guilford College, the Oxford Orphan Asylum, and the Baptist Orphanage, in addition to a lot of other charities and churches in the Winston-Salem community. He became the first southern man to establish a hospital serving African-Americans. He donated as well to establish the Slater Industrial School, which became Winston-Salem State University.
R.J. didn’t get to enjoy Reynolda House too long. He died the year after it was completed.
His daughter, Mary Reynolds Babcock, would donate it for use as an art museum, and the Reynolds’ philanthropic ways would continue. About 300 acres of the Reynolda estate was donated to Wake Forest University, which moved from the town of Wake Forest to Winston-Salem in 1956.
Today, the Reynolds family name is stamped on much of Winston-Salem, including the library at Wake Forest, the airport, a high school, a park and an auditorium, and the various components that make up Reynolda — Reynolda House, Reynolda Village, Reynolda Gardens.
(Having recently returned to my ancestral homeplace in Winston-Salem, moving into the modest apartment in which my parents lived when I was born, I thought about naming it and its adjoining patch of grass after me. But I’m only renting, and Woestendieka doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Reynolda.)
My honeysuckle encounter, and the hours I’ve spent slow-walking with Ace around Reynolda, have got me thinking I need to do more walking and less smoking, more pursuing of health and less feeding of urges. They’ve gotten me thinking too about how times change, and how things we were told were OK turn out not to be – like slavery and smoking, which, not to diminish the massive evil of the former, have much in common.
I don’t blame R.J. Reynolds for inflicting the scourge of cigarettes on society. He was a product of his times, peddling a product of his times, and pouring some of the profits back into his community. Far more devious, I think, were the subsequent generations of tobacco pitchmen and the marketing techniques they used, aimed as they were at young people (Camels) and women (Virginia Slims and Eve).
Light up — if you want to be cool, if you want to be sexy, if you want to be liberated, or if you merely want to be a rugged Marlboro man.
Most of us — though it took decades — wised up and saw through that. Smoking is bad, and bad for you — always has been, always will be.
At least, maybe, until they come out with All Natural Smokeless Honeysuckle 100′s, which would have the added benefit of leaving you smelling sweet.
Then, and only then, will we have come a long way, baby.
(For more about visiting Reynolda with your dog, see our next entry.)
Posted by John Woestendiek June 8th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, addictions, animals, cigarettes, company, dog, dogs, donations, evils, habits, hiking, history, honeysuckle, marketing, north carolina, pets, philanthropy, reynolda, reynolda gardens, reynolda house, reynolda village, reynolds, rj reynolds, slavery, smokers, smoking, tobacco, trails, winston-salem
Here’s the lowdown on America’s new top dog, courtesy of the American Kennel Club.
Breed: Scottish Terrier
AKC Name: CH Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot. (Sadie’s father and his littermates were all named for cars.)
Age: 4 years
Residence: Rialto, California
Biggest Wins: “National Champion” at the 2009 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship; Best in Show at both the 2009 Montgomery County Kennel Club and Philadelphia Kennel Club Dog Shows; won the Terrier Group at the 2009 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Seventy-nine Best in Show wins in 2009.
Favorite Pastime: When she’s not at home playing in the backyard or snuggling on the couch with her handler, Gabriel Rangel, Sadie loves being at dog shows. She loves the attention, the roar of the crowd and the treats she gets in the ring, the AKC says. When judges look at her, she looks back and makes it clear that she expects to be admired.
Favorite Treat: Sadie loves hot dogs made from organic chicken.
Exercise regimen: A long walk in deep grass in the morning and afternoon workouts on her treadmill
Beauty Regimen: Daily brushing, with a hair trim early in the week; on the morning of a show, she is bathed and blown dry.
Pedigree: Sadie is descended from the 1967 Westminster Kennel Club Best in Show winner Ch. Bardene Bingo. Bingo’s handler, Bob Bartos admires Sadie so much that he lets Sadie use Bingo’s show lead.
Fetishes: Sadie has a penchant for footwear. If a closet door is left open, Sadie helps herself to the lining of Rangel’s shoes.
Best friend: A Chihuahua named Tad.
Sleeping habits: In bed with her human family.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 18th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: akc, american kennel club, animals, beauty, best in show, california, dog show, dogs, exercise, family, fetish, grooming, habits, mercedes of maryscot, owner, pets, purebred, rialto, sadie, scottie, scottish terrier, shoes, statistics, trainer, treats, vital, westminster, westminster dog show