How many times have you looked at your own pet and known exactly what s/he was thinking?
Have you ever had an experience where you felt like you and your animal were communicating perfectly even though you speak totally different languages?
Do you have some kind of super-secret "spidey sense" that alerts you when your pet is ill, upset or simply not themselves?
If you answered "yes" to all three questions (like I just did), you may find yourself wondering why everyone doesn't see animals the way you do.
And yet I have literally lost count of the times people have said to me, or I have said to others, "pets are just little people with feathers, shells or fur."
My pets certainly are, which will make more sense once I clarify what I mean by "little people."
Thanks in large part to the pioneering work of avian researcher Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her most famous research partner, the late African Grey parrot Alex, we now have solid factual evidence that many parrots are as cognitively smart and emotionally sensitive as a typical two to five-year-old human child.
But that isn't all. More recently, Dr. Pepperberg's new research partner, the African Grey parrot Griffin, outperformed young apes on a sophisticated intelligence test.
Wow. And yet not wow.
Honestly, after nearly 21 years together, I feel I have gathered sufficient qualitative evidence (this is evidence gained from focused observation of a research subject rather than number crunching, which I suck at) to unofficially prove my cockatiel, Pearl, is as smart as the average two-year-old.
On any given day, if I simply forget he is a parrot and instead imagine him to be one of my nephews at age two, I realize there is approximately zero difference in their behavior.
For example, Pearl wants what he wants when he wants it and he has absolutely zero patience with that thing called "waiting." If it isn't fun, he refuses to do it. What's his is his and what's mine is his....no matter what it is. He gets really cranky if he stays up too late but doesn't want to go to bed and miss out on any fun. his energy level could run a marathon around mine any day of the week and twice on Sundays. The word "no" is just a shorter version of the word "yes."
Need I go on....?
However, I suspect more readers will be interested in hearing about canine smarts than avian smarts. So what about the family pup? Just how smart is your furry family member?
Very, very smart, at least according to one company that is spending zillions to create technology to bust through the interspecies language barrier once and for all. The product is a talking service dog vest. If the dog's owner goes into medical crisis, the dog can run up to any stranger and the vest will instruct that person to go help the dog's owner.
So brilliant. And yet not brilliant.
After all, if you have a dog you likely already know your dog knows before you do if you have cancer, a rash or even just a very bad day going on.
Sure, dogs don't have opposable digits like apes (or birds for that matter). But who really cares about thumbs when today's domestic dogs have vocabularies that easily surpass 165 words. In comparison, the average two-year-old child knows anywhere from 50 to 200 words. The dog can't say the words.
Now, it is true dogs can't say those words using human language. But yet again, does that really matter when dogs are so creative they have figured out over the millennia how to mirror our facial expressions to communicate with us? Canine paleontologists have proved how dogs' facial structure has quite literally evolved to take the place of spoken language as a communication tool to "talk" with their people.
Incredible. And not incredible.
On that topic, I want to share with you a jaw-dropping story of canine smarts that is very dear and personal to me.