I have always been an animal lover, and I will approach any dog or cat on the street as if it were my own (which doesn’t turn out to always be the best idea). My family has adopted their fair share of cats throughout the time that I have been around, adding up to around six. Ever since I can remember, I have held one-sided conversations with my cats, and kind of always assumed that they were listening without even considering the fact that they didn’t understand me.
Recently I came upon a video by New Scientist while progressing through my daily scrolls of social media that reopened my case of whether or not my cats can understand what I say. The video explains that recent MRI scans are showing that dogs have the ability to learn and interpret language. Dogs, just like humans, process the meaning of words with the left hemisphere of their brains, and the tone of the words with the right hemisphere. Additionally, the scans prove that dogs understand more than just the upbeat inflection of a person’s voice. In order to stimulate the reward center in their brain, both the actual word and the sound of your voice paired with the word need to be positive (New Scientist). I looked further into dogs’ communication skills and found that a majority of dogs have the ability to comprehend 165 words, potentially more if the dogs are trained. There is even an exceptionally trained dog who learned 200 words, proving the strong correlation between training and a dog’s ability to understand language (Animal Planet). I figured that if dogs are as advanced as some toddlers, my cats must be able to understand what I say on some level.
I ventured out to see if anyone else had felt a similar connection with their cats. I found an article by a Wildlife Rehabilitation and Cat Physiology and Behavior Specialist who advocated cats’ skills in responding to sound as oppose to the actual words being spoken. Unlike dogs, if a meaningless word or negative word is exclaimed to a cat, they will react as if I had said “come get your food” in the same manner.
So why are dogs more advanced in language than cats? Scientists performed the Strange Situation Classification (SSC) on a group of dogs to understand their attachment to their owners (BTG Studios). The SSC is a study that was performed in 1969 by Mary Ainsworth to examine the attachment levels of children (Simply Psychology). The original study can be found here, but in summary of the article, children ages twelve to eighteen months were observed in contact with their mother, in contact with their mother and a stranger, in contact with the stranger alone, alone, in contact with the stranger again, and in contact with the mother again. Most children had a secure attachment to their mothers, meaning they felt the safe when their mothers were present and unsafe when they were not. When the SSC test was performed on dogs, the results were extremely similar as to when it was performed on humans, however the test was a failure when attempted on cats (BTG Studios). Historically speaking, cats are known to be independent, whereas dogs have a tendency to form a strong companionship with humans due to their nature to live with a pack (BTG Studios). One of the scientists involved in the SSC study with dogs explains that psychologically dogs’ and cats’ brains are the same, but what draws them apart is their discipline (BTG Studios). Due to their instinct of self-reliance, cats are harder to train and therefore learn language. Dogs are easier to train because they are ambitiously looking for approval from their owner (BTG Studios). As I said before, there is a correlation between dogs’ training and their understanding of language, therefore leading me to think that there is a direct cause between consistent training and their understanding.
All in all, my cats sadly cannot translate my language into their cat language, but they can detect my tone of voice and, therefore; my emotion. This makes it possible for them to snuggle with me when I am having a bad day.
New. “Brain Scans Show Dogs Understand What We Say.” YouTube. New Scientist, 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.
Forbes, Logan. “How Well Do Cats Understand Human Language?” Quora. N.p., 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.
“Can Dogs Understand What We Say?” Dog Training. Animal Planet, 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.
Douglas, Kate. “Scientists Prove Dogs Are Better Than Cats.” Occasional Observer. BTG Studios, n.d. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.
McLeod, Saul. “Mary Ainsworth.” Simply Psychology. N.p., 06 Sept. 2016. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.
Image 1: http://www.memegen.com/meme/kqadkp
Image 2: http://www.catster.com/lifestyle/snuggly-saturday-kitten-hugs