Tobias and Pi Patel are two mini Schnauzers who are my dogs. They are seven years old, salt and pepper and have distinct personalities. Pi (no, not named for pizza pie or the mathematical Pi but after a fictional character from a great book,) is “Fabio” in disguise. He is vain, loud, obnoxious, bullyish and cannot stand competition. Tobias, (Toby) is a rodent hunter, always on duty patrolling for mice, squirrels or birds, sweet, caring and loves to be loved. Both thrive on one word commands such as: Sit, Stay, Come, Down, Off, Up, Speak, Biscuit, Paw, Be, Left, Bed, Get, No, Drop, and Take. If you attempt to use a full sentence you will get the head cocked to the side, ears pointed straight up, eyes bulging, which, translates to, “This is America! Speak one word please!”
Our communication is simple-they bark, I speak and we do not understand a word or bark the other is saying. What we do understand are the intonations and sounds behind the language. My one-word commands can be soft and high-pitched or stern and grumpy. If I say, “sit” using the latter, their butts will touch the floor in less than two seconds. If I ‘m soft, they will look at me with bulging eyes, smiling (yes, dogs do smile) and display “feign deafness”.
Their bark or “dog speak” does not contain syllables, complex English sentence structure or accented punctuation but rather tonality. Pitch makes up the tones and can distinguish if a bark signifies playtime, contentment or threatened and guarded. Toby and Pi‘s bark usually falls within these two categories and does not include mewing, snorting, burping etc.-that’s another subject to write about!
Their high pitch bark is present at greetings, playtime in the park or asking for another Bisquick (yes, the pancake). Deep pitched barks usually accompanied by guttural growls signifies someone coming in the main door and most especially someone coming in the main door who they don’t like which means everyone.
Can Toby and Pi comprehend my commands? Yes. And that depends on intonation. Comprehension is conducive to intonation. If the tone normally used for the command is askew there will be interference in the dog’s perception and reactions which will likely result in “feign deafness syndrome”.
Can Toby and Pi Patel understand English? No. If I say the word “sit” in Spanish using the tone associated with it, their butts will hit the floor in the same two seconds. “Sit” would also work, with the correct intonation in Japanese, German or just about any language, although the East African language of Sandawe with its clicks may pose a problem.
Dog speak is dog speak. I speak. Toby and Pi speak. We are communicating on a continual basis whether we understand the language or not. Creating a bond between animal and caregiver is dependent upon communication whether verbal or non-verbal. Without it, our relationships would be sterile and void of emotion.