The Longest Now


Teaching a poodle to make certain requests of his human partner
Sunday November 01st 2020, 1:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The following is a lovely essay by John Lubbock on learning to communicate better with dogs by teaching them language to express concepts. It was first published in Nature in 1885 and included in his delightful On the Senses, Instincts, and Intelligence of Animals (1888)

That the dog is a loyal, true, and affectionate friend must be gratefully admitted, but when we come to consider the psychical nature of the animal, the limits of our knowledge are almost immediately reached. I have elsewhere suggested that this arises from the fact that we have tried to teach animals, rather than to learn from them—to convey our ideas to them, rather than to devise any language or code of signals by means of which they might communicate theirs to us. The former may be more important from a utilitarian point of view, though even this is questionable, but psychologically it is far less interesting.

Under these circumstances it occurred to me whether some such system as that followed with deaf mutes, and especially by Dr. Howe with Laura Bridgman, might not prove very instructive if adapted to the case of dogs. I have tried this in a small way with a black poodle named Van.

I took two pieces of cardboard about 10 inches by 3, and on one of them printed in large letters the word [ F O O D ],  leaving the other blank. I then placed two cards over two saucers, and in the one under the “food” card put a little bread and milk, which Van, after having his attention called to the card, was allowed to eat.
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