I do beg your pardon, were you using that lamppost?

The other day I published a reason to be cheerful article containing the concept that dogs watching dogs on old tv programs might find their forms of speech outmoded. Of course not only is it a lovely concept but it is a wonderful area of study that scientists are looking into right now.

I like the idea that dogs these days are all streetwise and drop their rrr’s before their Woofs and so while dogs these days are all, “wotcha” and “awight” when they see movies from the 60s it sounds like two dogs passing on the street might say to one another, “I do beg your pardon, were you using that lamppost?”

There has been recent research showing that cows and birds have different accents depending on the region they are from. In birds, there is also a variation between city dwellers and country dwellers, even when they are geographically quite close.

There has been much more research into bird song, so we know a little bit more about how bird songs are learned. Some birds acquire imitations throughout their lives, but others learn a set of songs early in life that they then build on and vary. To learn these songs these birds use something called subsong. This is most often seen in birds when they are very young, or when they are in the late stages of courting. This involves the birds singing with their beaks closed, and allows the birds to practice without attracting attention to themselves (like me singing in the shower!). I like to imagine them as embarrassed teenagers worried about singing off key.

Unlike most other things, the young birds learn their songs from their father rather than their mother. But here’s where it gets a bit weirder. Dogs are actually quite a bit more sophisticated than these other animals (even if they don’t seem it). Dogs don’t copy their biological father, they copy the pack leader. And guess who that is in their mind? It’s you. According to some recent studies*, there is a correlation between the tone and timbre of the owners voices and the dog’s barks leading to the concept of Geordie pups as well as Scottie dogs.

So there you go, be careful what you casually say on twitter, some of it might turn out to be true.

*All the info up until this point has come from peer reviewed scientific papers, including the concept of dogs mimicking their owners, the last part was from a large study that was a pilot study, but hasn’t yet been extended or peer reviewed.

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