The Language of Dogs


Our Correspondents


Now that dogs have acquired the ability to speak, what are we to make of their discourse? Previously we might have expected them to be simple in both their desires and their expressions, limiting themselves to requests for food and play. While those concerns certainly loom large in their conversation, it is clear that all along we had been underestimating their perspicacity, their nuance, their humor, their judgment, and most surprisingly their pedantry.

The subject shown above, known as Pierre, was the first recorded example of a speaking dog. Last April he startled his host family, the Van Munchings of Bedburg, New York, by pointing out, apropos of nothing, that it was high time they cleaned the filter in their dehumidifier, adding for good measure that the tires on their Armada were badly in need of rotation. Pierre broached the subject in the mild and apologetic fashion that would come to be known as his hallmark, but that did not prevent Ethel Van Munching from dropping the dishes she was carrying to the kitchen table. Pierre, naturally, gobbled the eggs and bacon the instant they hit the floor, so that the family briefly thought they had simply experienced a collective hallucination. Moments later, however, Pierre was reminding them that their quarterly homeowner insurance payment was past due. It has still not been determined whether Pierre can actually read. 

Meanwhile, all across the nation, citizens were being confronted by those beings they considered their “pets”—a term that was rapidly excised from the language. A Great Dane in Texas directed her human’s attention to the fact that he had gained two full sizes since purchasing his business suit. A Border collie in Maine unplugged the home’s router while all six family members were absorbed with their individual screens, and then proceeded to lecture them on mental-health subjects for over an hour. A Chihuahua in Los Angeles made merciless fun of his human couple’s table manners, then pointedly ambled over to the cat’s litter box to pick up a snack. A ragtag group of strays in a Chicago park “threateningly” surrounded a jogger before interrogating her, to her lasting mortification, about corporate tax avoidance. “They made me realize I didn’t know the first thing about shell companies,” she sobbed to a reporter.

Needless to say, not all humans thus engaged reacted well, but the canines had clearly anticipated the possibility and nature of their pushback. There were scattered reports of dogs presenting their people with photocopies of compromising photographs, and at least one Minnesota Samoyed is believed to have buried critical legal documents in an undisclosed location. No one seems to know how an Irish setter in Nevada succeeded in removing the firing pins from all sixty-seven of the weapons in her family’s home arsenal—and it soon developed that she had somehow managed in communicating this voodoo to dogs nationwide. When a judge in South Carolina accused his coonhounds of collusion in a related matter, they laughed. It was a thing hitherto unrecorded. Dogs laughed!

Now humans around the globe are faced with a dilemma. Are dogs truly, as was long supposed, our friends? Can we ever again enjoy a simple walk in the woods without our companions lengthily enumerating our personal defects and suggesting remedies? It is nevertheless true that dogs have saved lives: by proposing a timely visit to the doctor, refusing to surrender the car keys to a drunk, or pointing out that the batteries in the smoke detector are long past their date of expiration. But can the race of humans survive this unanticipated evolutionary assault on its collective self-esteem? Can a species actually die of embarrassment?

Luc Sante’s most recent book is The Other ParisHe is one of the Daily’s correspondents, reviving his blog on pictures, Pinakothek. Luc was interviewed in our Spring issue. (He contributed the portfolio, too.)