Without Words

An article published in The Guardian this week tells us that our dogs may understand less of what we say to them than we may have imagined. It suggests that dogs find it hard to distinguish between similar sounding words. However, our tone and the manner in which we speak is readily detected by our pet, and it will know easily, for example, if we are pleased or displeased with its behaviour.

However, as has been suggested in “The Social Dog – Behaviour and Cognition“, dogs do seem to have a far deeper connection with humans than can be defined by verbal recognition alone. Have you noticed how your dog is able to pick up on your moods, particularly if you are feeling sad? Dogs cry, and the evidence suggests that they empathise with a human who is crying, so often they will seek to offer comfort to you.

The power of a dog’s communication with us goes well beyond words and commands. What we commonly refer to as the unconditional love that a dog has for its owner does indeed rely on far more subtle interaction than could be achieved with words alone. As descendants of wolves, dogs’ genes have become modified to create a hypersocial animal that differs from most others according to research published in Science Magazine. They are fundamentally a pack-animal, and they are able to react with humans who are close to them as if they too were members of the pack.

Writing in Cosmos Magazine, Kimberley Riskas reminds us that dogs feel empathy for human suffering, and that their instinct is to help rather than to take advantage of a person’s predicament. Why else would dogs be so well-suited to aiding the blind, rescuing people on mountains or saving the life of a child when in grave danger?

When a dog goes missing, or when it dies, there is often a huge sense of loss felt by the owner and their family. Many have said that they felt they had lost a family member. This would be a creature that showed love and affection through its actions and its connection with us, and we as humans find that our closeness to others (including our pets) is dependent far more on their actions than the words that they use.