Animals that listen and are not so stupid

Behaving like a dog and a cat, giving your tongue to the cat, being dumb like a carp, being talkative like a heron … What do all these idiomatic expressions have in common?

The fact that they talk about communication and that the protagonists are animals. But by the way, do our four-legged friends (or even more!) Have a real ability to understand us, their “humans” or is it just a matter of sound?

Like a snake charmer, sit cross-legged, take out your flute, start playing the melody and wait to see if the snake comes out of its basket …

Magic words?

If you have or have had a pet, you’ve probably talked about it before. It is certainly not a great philosophical discussion, but rather a monologue capable of arousing the interest of the animal. Can we say that our furry friends understand some words better than others?

Judging by your reaction, we can think so! For example, when it comes to food, they are all very receptive. So the words “play, eat, candy, dinner, yam yum” are like triggers for my two cats! They both come running, whether they’re asleep or not. These are the magic words. Is it the fact that I pronounce them in a certain way? Is the sound of each of these words different? Impossible to know precisely because, unfortunately, our friends are not able to answer us.


Based on the idea of ​​researching communication with babies (humans!), Catherine Reeve, an Irish psychologist, conducted a study in 2015 that aimed to develop a vocabulary measure for the use of baby owners. dogs, the ultimate goal of which was to study the links between language and executive functions.

For this study, a list of 172 words classified into different categories (toys, food, orders, outdoor places) was given to 165 dog owners. Among them were both pets and professional dogs (assistance, police, etc.). The task of the teachers was to check which words their canine companions constantly answered.

The difference was compelling: 120 words on average for assistance dogs versus 80 for domestic dogs. It was also noted that these figures may vary depending on the breed of animal. To say that professional dogs have better executive functions would be to go too far. However, this observation is cognitively interesting, although “training” a puppy, such as a future police dog, is expensive and very selective.

However, with the studies that are still going on today, it is certain that if they manage to demonstrate the link between the first word reaction skills and the later behavioral and cognitive abilities, the situation would change for our animal friends. We could train them “better” for the future.

Polyglot animals?

What about the horse whisperer? And Caesar Milan, the man who talks to dogs? What about Pavlov and his conditioning? And the fakir and his snake? Do our animals understand us? Nobody knows!

On the other hand, another study by Mexican researcher Laura Cuaya (for the University of Budapest, Hungary) sought to show how sensitive animals were to different languages.

This question was asked after moving to Hungary with his dog from Mexico. Did he understand that the people around him now spoke a language other than Spanish?

To prove it, he did an experiment with 18 dogs. He isolated them and, with a scanner, reproduced excerpts from The Little Prince in their “mother tongue” and in a foreign language that they were not used to hearing. And there, surprisingly, the brain reactions were final.

Without going into neuropsychological details with primary and secondary terms of the auditory cortex, the dogs were telling the difference. The researcher concluded that “we have discovered for the first time that a non-human brain can distinguish languages”. This could be explained by the different sounds and accentuations perceived between these languages. that it was the older dogs who best perceived these distinctions Not so stupid, our animal friends!

Oh … and if you’re wondering about the fakir and his snake, I’ll repeat what his biology teacher told me when I was in high school when I asked him this question after he once told the class that snakes they were deaf. (!).

Me: What about snake charmers? The snake is not deaf because when it hears the melody it comes out of its basket!

He: The truth is that the snake charmer is used to threatening and hitting his snake if he doesn’t get up when he sees the flute, that’s why he obeys! Lie or truth, no idea, but at least the story will surely make you smile!

Sources and illustrations

Can dogs distinguish their owner’s tongue from one they have never heard? Geo, Jérémy Doctor, January 2022,

Your dog can understand what you are saying, up to a point … Le Soleil, Sophie Jacques, January 2022, -ce -what -tu-diu – a-un-cert-punt-818b7dfa6cbd9fc215f7f71cd7b1d2a3

Animals, Pixabay, and

Crotalus – The rattlesnake – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia –

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