What does evidence of canine vocabulary and intelligence say about other thinking animals?

There are two ways, broadly, that human beings view their relationship with canis familiaris. Some people still use the vocabulary of property, of being “masters” of their canine companions — a throwback perhaps from when dogs, apart from being friends, were working animals far more widely than they are today. At the other extreme are those for whom their pets are very human, members of the family with appropriate kinship terms and relationships.

For example, in a nuclear family with a pet, the parents will be mummy and papa (or whatever appellation is used in the home), and the children will be siblings to the dog. This set of people often claim, to the chagrin of their less devoted dog friends, that their “child” can understand everything they say, that he is smarter than the average person. As it turns out, they might be more right than wrong.

As early as 2011, researchers found that dogs knew the names of many more specific objects and people than previously thought. One border collie called Chaser learned well over 1,000 names. Now, a new study, published in Current Biology, looked at the brain wave activity to establish exactly what dogs are thinking when they seem to recognize balls, frisbees, their favorite toy or their favorite shoe, chewed to bits. The results, simply put, show evidence of object recognition.

There are at least two implications that follow from the study and other similar findings. First, when the pooch gives a blank stare after destroying the latest household item, he might be faking it: The study also found that they can recognize words and choose to ignore them. The second is more ethical and goes beyond the canine kingdom. Elephants, dolphins and whales, primates and great apes — multiple non-human species — have shown signs of emotion and intelligence. Few of them — compared to dogs — have been pets, or have ever had human “masters”. As more animals seem more like people, it might be time to humanize them — just like dogs.

By hadem