June 10, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Talk to Your Dog: He’s Listening

Science Now and Nature Science Update both describe a border collie named Rico that can identify 200 objects by name.  The dog exhibits the same “fast-mapping” skill of a three-year-old child learning to associate sounds with objects.  The owner calls out “dinosaur” and the dog picks up the blue dinosaur toy.  He calls “doll” and the dog correctly picks up the red doll, and any other object in the vocabulary, with 90% accuracy.  Rico can even learn new objects after just one exposure, and remember them weeks later.  The dog’s ability does not extend to language syntax, but his ability has caused some to speculate on the evolution of human language.  NSU says,

The dog’s magnificent memory shows that canines share some aspects of the language skill that evolved in humans, says Julia Fischer from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who reports her findings in Science.1
    But canines’ ability to comprehend speech can only have manifested itself after they were domesticated, some 15,000 years ago, and human speech is thought to have evolved 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.  So Fischer’s findings suggest that the ability to match novel words and items has evolved twice, first in humans and then in dogs.


1Kaminski, Call and Fischer, “Word Learning in a Domestic Dog: Evidence for ‘Fast-Mapping’,” Science Vol 304, Issue 5677, 1682-1683, 11 June 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1097859].

OK, we have to tell the customary talking dog joke.  A dog owner took his mutt into a Hollywood talent agent’s office, and exclaimed, “I’d like to show you my talking dog, Frodo.”  The agent replied with an “I’ve-seen-it-all” smirk, “Talking dog, eh?  Perhaps you could demonstrate your pet’s language skills for me.”  “OK, Frodo, here’s our big chance,” the owner replied, looking at his bright-eyed, panting companion.  “Ready?  I’ll ask a question, and you answer it for the gentleman.  What is on top of a house?”  “Roof!” came the eager response.  “What does sandpaper feel like?”  “Ruff!” barked the dog.  “Who was the greatest baseball player of all time?”  Without any hesitation, the dog answered, “Ruth!”
    “Will you get outta here?” the agent responded, showing them both the door.  Forlorn, the man walked his dog back to the car.  “Too bad, Frodo, I thought you were terrific.”  “Maybe I shoulda said Lou Gehrig,” the dog replied.
    Rico is a good dog because God gave these animals intelligence.  Dogs are bright, multi-talented, and a lot of fun.  This story has nothing to do with evolution.  As smart as Rico is, he doesn’t understand syntax and semantics.  He just associates a sound with an object, and knows that if he fetches it for the master, he will get a dog biscuit.  If the owner said, “Darwinism,” the dog would tilt its head quizzically, unless he learned to associate it with an object and knew it meant to run and fetch the stuffed monkey.
    As much as we would like to think Lassie understands Timmy’s dialogue, she is just responding to the offstage trainer’s cues.  Dogs are not evolving upward into philosophers.  Memory, vocabulary, conditioned response, and association are common talents of animals: as they say, “an elephant never forgets,” and even crows have a remarkable set of calls to signal one another.  There are parrots who can say whole sentences and even sing opera.  That doesn’t mean they know what they are saying.  Only humans converse in meaningful sentences with abstract reasoning.
    Enjoy this article for the wonder of design in animals and the joy of pets.  Watching evolutionists revert to Darwinian storytelling every time they see a wonder of nature is as disgusting as watching a dog return to its own vomit.

Categories: Mammals

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