Things that make you go woof

Morning, i’m just back from a rainy weekend away, nice to get out of town for a bit. Hope you all had a wonderful weekend. Here’s yesterday’s Sunday Times column, it’s about dogs with accents. Yes, dogs with accents. The world is indeed a weird and wonderful place.

You know how dogs often look a lot like their owners? Well now scientists have proven that it’s entirely possible they may sound like their owners too – based on current research that shows that dogs have accents.
The research was done by what I can only imagine were some pretty bored scientists over at the Canine Behaviour Centre in Cumbria. My guess is that first they set out to split the atom, then on discovering that had already been cracked they turned to the Higgs Boson. And when they heard another group of scientists had already called dibs on that, they finally moved on to trying to figure out whether or not dogs have accents.
I suppose there’s not much else for them to research in the doggie world. We already know that dogs like licking their own bollocks and giving you sad eyes until you crumble and feed them from the table.
Their dog accent research was conducted via answering machine. Hardly the most scientific method, if you ask me. In my mind, unless it contains a litmus test, some Bunsen burners, a microscope and several small explosions, can it really be called science? But who am I to judge, I got minus forty seven percent for science at school, and the only letters I have behind my name are from the traffic department. And the scientists who undertook the research seem relatively happy that their results are suitably sciencey, so ignore me, we’re good to go.
Basically they got a bunch of owners and their dogs to leave messages on the centre’s answering machine, and then the experts (I’m inclined to roll my eyeballs at the term experts, do they have ‘bark scientist’ on their business cards?) compared the pitch, tone, volume and length of the sounds made by both the humans and the dogs and came to the conclusion that dogs from different places definitely have different accents.
Look they’re not saying these animals actually talk. Nobody is insinuating that one Golden Retriever in the park might come up to another Golden Retriever and say, ‘Excuse me old chap, you didn’t by any chance see a tennis ball flying past this way, did you? It’s just that my human has quite an arm on him and I do need to get that ball back to him rather urgently.’ This is more about their barks and growls than long conversations. And if you’ve ever actually heard a Chow say ciao, there are people you should see about that.
According to the Cumbrian Canine Behaviour Centre’s theory, a Great Dane who’s born and bred in Cape Town say, will have a different accent to a Great Dane who’s born and bred in Yugoslavia.
On doing my own internet research on the subject of animals with accents (thank goodness nuclear physics was already taken), I discovered that it extends to other animals too. Whales and dolphins are known to have different accents and so do many birds and some amphibians too.
Marine Biologists (who just feel more legitimate than dog-bark scientists) say you can tell where a whale comes from by the sounds it makes. And that if two whales from different sides of the tracks bumped into each other (clearly it’s a small world in the ocean too) they’d have as much luck understanding each other as a lemur and a lion. (Hence the best-selling underwater title, ‘North Atlantic Right Whales are from Mars, North Pacific Right Whales are from Venus’.) The reason for the differences in the way they sound is apparently because baby whales learn to speak by imitating their parents.
And the dog people agree. They also say that dogs imitate their owners as part of the pack bonding process. The closer the bond between the human and the
dog, the more similar they sound. Although I’ve known some men where I suspect it might be the other way around and it’s the men who mimic the dogs, but I digress.
Given this information, a number of questions spring to mind for us to ask the Cumbrian dog scientists next time we bump into them in the pub. Such as, do all dogs from one area have the same accent, or does it depend on the breed? For example, does a Sandton-based Labrador have a different accent to a Sandton-based Jack Russell, dahling?
And if you interviewed a French Poodle who lives in Boksburg, will it have a French Accent or a Boksburg accent? And if we took three new-born puppies from the same litter, and put one in Mexico, another in Kazakhstan, and the third in a trailer park in America, would their bark be different after a few months, or would it take a few years? And would the American trailer park puppy get impregnated in its teens?
Yes, Scientists of Cumbria, forget researching outer space, or cloning, or smarter fuel solutions, or gene splicing, we need you to carry on your important work with dogs immediately! These questions are of international importance. What’s with their obsession with sticks? And is their bark really worse than their bite? And will they ever be able to be friends with cats? These are all things we urgently need to know.

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