Your Dog is Ready to Talk
Fun fact: Speech-language pathologists can assess a child’s language abilities before he even says his first word! We can do this because before kids start talking, they first develop pre-linguistic skills. Pre-linguistic skills are necessary foundations in attention, social skills, receptive language, and expressive language. During an evaluation, I can tell a child is probably close to talking when I observe the following skills:
· He is aware of my presence.
· He turns toward whoever is speaking.
· He stays in our play area for at least a couple of minutes at a time.
· He enjoys playing.
· He makes eye contact with me.
· He watches what I’m doing.
· He copies some of the things I do.
· He knows what will happen next during routine activities.
· He understands my pointing or gesturing.
· He understands some words.
· He tries to get my attention.
· He initiates play.
· He gestures.
· He vocalizes often.
Here’s another fun fact: dogs possess most of these same pre-linguistic skills! Take a look at that list again, this time with a dog you know in mind.
· She is aware of my presence.
· She turns toward whoever is speaking.
· She stays in our play area for at least a couple of minutes at a time.
· She enjoys playing.
· She makes eye contact with me.
· She watches what I’m doing.
· She copies some of the things I do.
· She knows what will happen next during routine activities.
· She understands my pointing or gesturing.
· She understands some words.
· She tries to get my attention.
· She initiates play.
· She gestures.
· She vocalizes often.
Your dog does all of those things too, right? This means your dog demonstrates most of the same skills as toddlers do right before they start talking! In typical child development, expressive language through verbal speech comes next. Since dogs do not develop verbal speech, they’ve always been stuck in the pre-linguistic stage of life. But, this does not need to continue. By giving dogs a way to access words, we are giving them the opportunity to show us what they’ve known all along, keep developing their language skills, and functionally communicate with their owners.
Koko the gorilla’s sign language teacher, Dr. Penny Patterson, stated, “Why, if there’s continuity in every other aspect of anatomy and behavior [between humans and gorillas], why should there not be continuity in communication?” The same concept rings true when comparing humans and dogs. If dogs possess the same foundational skills for language development as children do, why should the similarities stop there?
Your dog is ready to talk. Are you ready to give her a voice?