2021-06-09 05:13:55 GMT2021-06-09 13:13:55(Beijing Time) Sina English


Will We Ever Be Able to 'Talk' With Our Pets?

We're all familiar with the scene: Lassie bounds up to the farmhand and starts yipping; the farmhand says, “What is it, Lassie?”; Lassie keeps yipping; and eventually the farmhand deciphers, from this undifferentiated noise, some extremely specific message re: someone being trapped in a well or burning house. This fantasy of dog-human communication has, a half-century on, still not been realized: We have no real way to know what our pets are after when they make their cute little noises. But might that be changing? Has the tide of technological advancement brought us any closer to the dream of talking to one’s pet, or at least knowing with greater precision whatever it is our pets are trying to communicate? We’ve talked to a number of experts to find out.


Alper Bozkurt

Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, NC State University



I prefer the term “communication” to “talk.” We can always talk to them, and they talk to us back in their own language. We do this on a daily basis. The question is whether we can understand their message. There are three ways to do it. The first one is to understand what message their vocalization carries or contains. This is their typical “talking.” The second one is their body language. Almost all the time, it carries a message. The last one is to be aware of their physiology such as how fast and varying their heart rate is or their muscle tension or breathing rate or stress hormone (cortisol) release. Our research team uses wearable or injectable electronic sensors to assess all of these signals. In return, we can teach them our messages through first being present with them and showing our real “self” rather than our emotional outbursts. We can also use traditional psycho-behavioral tools such as simple classical conditioning or operant conditioning. Our collaborative team with Dr. David Roberts from NC State Computer Science Department tries to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to achieve this.


My message here is that with the latest developments in biomedical sensors, wearable devices, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things, we are definitely in a new era where we have new tools to achieve a more conscious and efficient communication with our pets and working animals.



人工智能(Artificial Intelligence),英文缩写为AI。它是研究、开发用于模拟、延伸和扩展人的智能的理论、方法、技术及应用系统的一门新的技术科学。

物联网(Internet of Things,简称IOT)是指通过各种信息传感器、射频识别技术、全球定位系统、红外感应器、激光扫描器等各种装置与技术,实时采集任何需要监控、 连接、互动的物体或过程,采集其声、光、热、电、力学、化 学、生物、位置等各种需要的信息,通过各类可能的网络接入,实现物与物、物与人的泛在连接,实现对物品和过程的智能化感知、识别和管理。物联网是一个基于互联网、传统电信网等的信息承载体,它让所有能够被独立寻址的普通物理对象形成互联互通的网络

Zachary Silver

PhD student in Psychology and Member of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University



At least to date, there’s no evidence that dogs, or any other pet, have the capacity for language as we know it. Language seems to be unique to our species—even our closest genetic relatives, like chimpanzees or bonobos, don’t seem to possess the capacity for language as we conceive it.


However, we do know that dogs are very skilled at interpreting our social cues and other attempts at communication. And the more we learn about how dogs understand these cues and gestures, the better we’ll be able to communicate with them. That said, that the extent to which dogs are able to understand communication is somewhat one-directional: they can take in a lot of what we’re telling them, but their capacity for communicating with us seems to be a little less sophisticated. But the more we understand about dogs’ communicative systems, the more nuanced our ability to communicate with them will become.



social cues: 社会暗示; 社会线索; 社交提示

[例句]They are overly sensitive to social cues and worry too much about what others think of them. 他们对社交暗示过于敏感,过于在乎别人的眼光。

Right now, there's a group working with the TikTok famous dog Bunny—they're developing a system in which the dog presses a button to communicate certain words to humans. How robust this communication is remains an open question, but that’s one of the more exciting advances we have on the dogs-producing-communication side.



Brian Hare

Professor in Evolutionary Anthropology and Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University



The big surprise about dogs is how many words they can learn—the average service dog knows at least 50 commands, and a dog called Chaser knew over 1,000 names of objects and toys. Chaser was truly extraordinary because she could learn words through a process of exclusion. When she heard a new word, she inferred that it was for a new toy. So she brought back a toy that she had not yet learned a name for. Chaser remembered all the words she was taught and her vocabulary just kept growing—she only stopped at 1,000 because her owner had no more time to train her.


As remarkable as dogs are at understanding us, this is just one side of communication. Does the conversation go both ways?


Dogs have fairly plastic vocal chords or a ‘modifiable vocal track.’ They can subtly alter their voice to produce a wide variety of different sounds with different meanings. In an experiment, researchers recorded ‘alone barks’ of dogs when they were alone, and ‘stranger barks’ when a stranger was approaching. Then they played this bark to people to see if they could distinguish the difference.


Regardless of whether they owned a dog or not, most people could tell from a bark whether a dog was alone or being approached by a stranger, playing or being aggressive.


Dogs can also use ‘showing’ behavior—many dog owners will get the hint for messages such as ‘let’s play fetch!’, ‘I need to go to the bathroom,’ ‘over here – look at this!’


It’s surprising how much we can tell each other, even when we are not vocalizing. And of course the genius of dogs is that they can read our body language. If you throw a ball and your dog can’t find it, you can point to where it went, and your dog will happily trot off in that direction. It might seem simple, but your dogs must know that you know something they don’t and that your intention is to help them. This level of mind reading is called ‘theory of mind.’ It appears in human infants at around 9 months old and is the gateway to culture and language.


Far from being one sided, the conversation between dogs and people is quite sophisticated. As we keep exploring the minds of dogs, hopefully it will grow richer still.


Michael Wilson

Associate Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota



Yes, we already can, if our pets are talking birds, like parrots. Irene Pepperberg showed that her African grey parrot Alex was able to understand and produce words that suggested he knew the meaning of quite a few words, including terms for color, shape, and number.


Even animals that can’t mimic speech can learn to communicate, with help from technology. Much like apes were trained to do in language experiments back in the 1970s, dogs can learn to use electronic communication pads to communicate with people.


So to a certain extent, we already can talk with our pets.


Will we ever be able to hold conversations with them? Ask them how they are feeling, or if they remember that trip to the park the other day, or get them to understand that we’re going away for a few days but will be coming back, or find out about their hopes and dreams for the future? That seems unlikely, because such conversations require more sophisticated language, and more sophisticated minds, than common pets like cats and dogs have been shown to have.


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