Does Rover Know She Has a Name?

While perusing the Sunday paper, an odd scrap often catches in the old cranial craw, requiring rumination and later regurgitation. Case in point, from that paragon of American journalism, Parade Magazine:

Nancy Cassidy, from Falls Church, VA, asks Ms. Smartypants, aka Marilyn von Savant, the Smartest Woman in the World, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, "Do pets really know they have names?"

While we have a great deal of respect for Ms. Smartypants, primarily because she has managed to turn her off-the-charts I.Q. into fabulous fame and fortune rather than an early grave or a trip to the nuthouse like most super-geniuses, in this case her answer left much to be desired:

"No. The repetition of a pet’s "name" merely provokes a learned response, depending on how the owner vocalizes the name. To a pet, it might mean anything from "come along, now" to "time for dinner". Try saying your pet’s name disapprovingly, and he may hang his head unhappily as if he’s done something wrong."

Well, duhh. So how does Rover hanging her head after we point out she has crapped on the doormat indicate she doesn’t know we are addressing her alone when we start an utterance with "Rover"? Not only that, but when we disapprovingly say "Fluffy" because the CAT shat the mat, it is the cat who raises his head in feigned incomprehension, while Rover wags her tail, pleased to see our displeasure directed towards her rival for our affection.

We are sure that on those bleak Arctic afternoons when Lance Mackey was madly mushing his way towards the finish line of the 34th Iditarod dog-sled race last week in Alaska, that each and every one of his 12-dog team knew its own name, and probably the names of its harness-mates.

And we know for a fact that dogs understand a lot more language than just their names. When we were a wee tyke and walked to our neighborhood primary school, every morning Rover would sadly see us off, stoically prepared for six hours of boring loneliness until our return. Before leaving we would tell her where we were going that afternoon upon our release. Either right back home, or to best friend Bobby Horowitz’s house on the next block, or to our Grandmother’s house on Highland Avenue, near the school. Inevitably, Rover would be waiting at the designated destination before the final school bell rang.

Rover, in fact, was smarter than most of the people we have known in the intervening 50 years, although probably not smarter than Marilyn…..

from Parade Magazine (content appears on-line one week after publication)

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