I’ve learned a lot since coming to this house. I’ve learned that carrots are the best food ever. I’ve learned that apples are also the best food ever. And I’ve learned the art of human-to-dog translation. I’m Grace, a Plott Hound discovering there’s more to life than being forced to breed litter after litter.
I was never much of a talker before. I mean, in the past no one ever talked to me so why would I talk to them? But now people are always talking to me: asking me if I want to go outside; would I like a treat; why can’t I scoot over to make more room on the bed? Fortunately dogs are generally happy creatures, so even when we don’t get what we want we wag our tails and smile during the entire conversation. Much of that has to do with how we translate things. We’re eternal optimists!
Rick: “Don’t eat that!”
Translation: “It smells interesting and looks really good and it might not be here much longer, but it’s gross. So wait until I’m looking away before you eat that.”
Rick: “Off the sofa!”
Translation: “Wait until I leave the house before getting on the furniture.”
Some people say dogs have a limited range of emotions and anything more is anthropomorphizing. Well, kinda. Dogs can smile but we can’t laugh and we can be playful but not prideful. Your dog may not show empathy around toddlers, display signs of eagerness for a walk, or concern you with jealousy around other animals – but we can show those emotions. It’s why rescue shelters check us for those traits.
However it is true that people have many more emotions with much greater depth to them than a dog might. Witness these signs of ignorance, confusion, manipulation, harassment and love – all within a couple of words!
Rick: “That’s all!”
Translation: “Despite the fact that you’re so hungry, your one bowl of food seems like just an appetizer, and I have the refrigerator open and am within arm’s reach of your food. I don’t fully understand the gravity of your hunger so I’ll wait until some arbitrary time in the future before feeding you again. But I love you immensely!”
Rick: “No more treats.”
Translation: “I don’t need you to do anything special right now but when I do I’ll tempt you with a tiny bit of food. But I love you immensely!”
Still, I don’t understand all talk. Most dogs can understand specific gestures to ‘sit’ or ‘come’ if they are repeated by others outside of the family but the words & the enunciation are also crucial parts of translation. Whether it’s flattery or yelling, a dog gets the gist because the facial expressions play a part too. Simple syllable words work best, as does the familiarity with the person. Rick is pretty easy to understand, but then it’s just the two of us. For example, last week I couldn’t understand the doctor.
Vet: “Grace’s cancerous mastocytoma has returned.”
Translation: I have no idea. But then maybe it’s best you don’t always know what the humans are discussing. It gets in the way of enjoying my day.
FYI, Grace is recovering from her surgery and awaiting test results on the stage of this tumor.