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This morning Lacey is being so indecisive about whether she wants to be up on the couch or down on the floor. Up and down, up and down. In order to get up on the couch, she “asks” by putting her front paws up on the cushion and either nudging my hand with her nose or pawing at me.

After the 5th time in an hour I’d had enough of picking her up to get on the couch. She pawed and nudged me. I told her she should just hang on the floor and the reason why. So she’d get down, circle around and come back to paw and nudge at me.
In the conversational way I often talk to her, not truly expecting her to understand, I said “I’m not bringing you up again. Why don’t you go play with your toys?” With that she got down, calmly walked over to one of her toys, then pounced on it and started chewing.
I couldn’t believe it! She never would go play on her own if she was insisting on being on the couch— she’d just go curl up in the corner of the room and pout. I feel like she concretely understood something beyond a simple command.

My last poodle, Asher, was SUCH a smart dog. I swear he understood English on some level. For example, he’d be sitting next to me on the couch and start scratching so hard it’s shaking me too. I’d tell him “hey, that’s kind of annoying that you’re scratching so hard you’re shaking the whole couch. Can you do that on the floor?” He would jump down, finish his scratching, then jump back up when he was done.

Ive never expected Lacey to understand casual sentences the way Asher did. I didn’t even think it was possible. But how cool if it turns out someday she does.
 

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Love that. :)

I think when we speak calmly, we're easier to read. So not only do they start picking up words, they tune into us on a level that's largely invisible to humans.

Gracie was the same. She'd be sitting on my lap and I'd say something casually like, "Time to get down, thanks." And she'd respond instantly. My guess is, in addition to catching the word "down," she could sense a shift in my leg muscles or something equally subtle.

I think it's a sign of both intelligence and sensitivity.
 

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I agree it's amazing what they can pick up on! We have a small couch and Misha hates when my boyfriend sits on it with me and there is no room for him. I will scooch over a little bit and tell him if he can manage to curl up in that space then he can get up. He always does exactly what I'm telling him to do even if he has to contort himself quite a bit. Sometimes I wonder... if a dog was born with the intelligence of a human... but still was a dog in every way... what would be different about them?
 

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Dogs do not have the neurological tools to understand sentences or even words for that matter. What is possible is for them to learn to associate a word with a behavior or a word with an object. Even when we speak conversationally and calmly they may appear to understand everything but what is really happening is that they are picking up on words like toy or sit or come. Dogs are creatures of habit, not great intellectuals. Both Lily and Javelin will respond to sentences but really only because a word or two have acquired those associations, not out of understanding any of the words. A human child can be invited to sit and will sit on anything they think is appropriate to use because they can generalize and think abstractly about sitting. If there is no place to sit that a dog recognizes as appropriate for sitting they will fail to do so.

I don't mean to be a buzz kill on the idea of our poodles being super smart, but they are dogs not people. If we anthropomorphize too much about these kinds of things we actually can create problems faster than solving them. If you like talking to your dog that is fine, but don't overestimate what they think while you are doing it.
 

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Here's some links about dogs and human language :

A very small MRI study of dogs brain functions when processing human language

About Dr Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University and the Duke Canine Cognition Center

An article interviewing Dr Brian Hare
 

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Discussion Starter #6
@lily cd re I can see why you took my post to mean that I think dogs have the ability to understand everything we say in casual conversation and apply abstract response to it consistently.
Lacey showed a sign that our communication is becoming better as we continue to bond and learn each other. The fact that she responded to a casual sentence with understanding, despite it obviously being that she knows the word toy, was unexpected and made me happy. She’s at an age where simple commands she was solid on are sometimes “forgotten” and focus can be difficult. I did not expect her to actually pay attention to my casual talking to catch the word “toy.”
I do not expect that’s mainly how our communication should be. It’s just enjoyable to talk to your dog when you’re hanging out.
Asher was thoughtful, smart, well trained, and very in tune with people. Today was a glimmer that in the future Lacey may have some of the beautiful qualities my boy had.
 

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Porkchop, I am sorry I wasn't suggesting you not talk to your dog and have fun with it. I talk to my dogs too. Often when I reply along the lines I did here it is my global thinking for anyone who might be browsing around here. Obviously Lacey has a wonderful life and great experiences coming.
 

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There's a world of non-verbal communication that we don't really understand. Humans do it. One look between long-time partners can equal a paragraph.

I think that poodles are emotional barometers. If my mood changes at all - just a tiny bit of stress - Nomie is right there ready to help out. And too often, imo, making the situation more stressful!
 

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I call the head tilt when I'm conversing with my poodles "tuning in my frequency".
After tens of thousands of years of being cooperative companions and with their ability to read gestures, understand some verbal communication, and evidence of their ability to infer information, it's not surprising to me that many of us carry on conversations with them which feel understood. I think they read us better than we do them.
I'm fascinated with the studies on dog's cognitive abilities.
 

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I don't know if it's too late but this is a link to a free online course at Duke.
 

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I don't know if it's too late but this is a link to a free online course at Duke.
It starts May 20. I signed up. Thanks
 

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I signed up too. I wondered over it possibly being too late because yesterday the start date was May 19 lol. Then after I saw May 20 today, and got signed up successfully, I concluded that as an online course, no reason for it not to start everyday. I doubt there's any human monitoring thru it. That doesn't make the course info invalid :).
You'll also note suggestions to buy the book or join some other related programs. This is part citizen science and part funding for the programs, whenever there's a fee. I haven't done any of that yet, but might.

A couple more things...I tried to find the NatGeo show online that I first saw Dr Hare in "Is Your Dog A Genius?" and haven't yet but I found this lecture with him. He starts at about 15 minutes and goes for about an hour.


As a heads up, one comment below the video was from someone who'd signed up for the free course who said that after just 2 segments they were prompted to start paying. They might be referring to the dognition/mooc "games" to test the types of intelligences. That part is optional per the description.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
@lily cd re, thank you. I do appreciate having people here with your level of knowledge and experience with dog training. Many come to this forum with questions on how to handle training and behavioral issues and you’re always taking the time to give them information and experienced advice. I just checked out your “about me” section and see that you’re a college biology professor, it makes sense that educating people is your bread and butter.

@Rose n Poos, your responses are always so in depth with links, photos/videos, encouragement... you really go above and beyond for people here. :)
I didn’t expect this thread to become so educational and thought provoking! I’m still checking out the studies in your second link on the Duke website because there’s a lot! I’m going to keep looking through your links today. If I had time I’d definitely sign up for the dog emotion and cognition course. It’s a very interesting subject for sure.

Lacey only recently started doing the head tilt when I talk to her. I also take that as a sign that she’s starting to connect with me more rather than be in her own puppy world.
One thing she has always sensed shown outwardly is when I’m sad and missing my (late) brother, and will just calmly snuggle up to me.
Normally I can’t see any major outward effects my state of being has on her, although I know it does. I make a conscious effort to be calm and have a lot of patience with her during learning moments because I know how much further it goes that way. She’s a very independent thinker and strong willed. Not very sensitive.

@Dianaleez I remember seeing on a different thread that Normie has always been calm and affectionate. I bet that makes him naturally in tune and supportive of you even as a puppy, even if it’s more of a hinderance sometimes. 😬
 

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My family and I think it's funny how sometimes we're talking and suddenly the dogs perk up and stare at the speaker. We wonder, what did they hear that caught their interest? Another thing we've noticed is, sometimes one of us is just THINKING about going for a walk and suddenly one of the dogs comes over all smiley and acting charming. It's like we put out a chemical the dogs can smell when we are thinking of going outside lol

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