Category: Culture

Returning to animal communication skills.

As in how a primate chooses to communicate with humans.

In recent times there have been a couple of posts in this place about the science of communication between dogs and humans.

What about other animals?

What about a gorilla?

If you drop across to the YouTube site and search for Koko the Talking Gorilla you will be astounded by how many videos are to be seen.

Try this one:

A very moving account from Robin Williams.

If we then want more background information on this remarkable animal, Wikipedia is there to oblige (in part):

Hanabiko “Koko” (born July 4, 1971) is a female western lowland gorilla who is known for having learned a large number of hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language (ASL).

Her instructor and caregiver, animal psychologist Francine “Penny” Patterson, reports that Koko is able to understand more than 1,000 signs of what Patterson calls “Gorilla Sign Language” (GSL).[2] In contrast to other experiments attempting to teach sign language to non-human primates, Patterson simultaneously exposed Koko to spoken English from an early age. Reports state that Koko understands approximately 2,000 words of spoken English, in addition to the signs.[3] Koko’s life and learning process has been described by Patterson and some of her collaborators in a number of books, peer reviewed articles, and on a website.

Then, naturally, Koko has her own website, The Gorilla Foundation, where one can watch more videos, enjoy photographs and even drop in to Koko’s very one blog site!

Time for another video from YouTube.

Published on Oct 13, 2015

Koko got her birthday wish this July 4th — not only did one kitten come to visit, but a whole litter. Koko fell in love with one, and the other fell in love with her. Koko has adopted these two kittens into her family, and it has energized her world.
Not only have Koko’s maternal and play instincts kicked in, but she is signing more to her caregivers and generating new content everyday that can be used by The Gorilla Foundation to create empathy for great apes. This can have significant benefits to both endangered free-living great apes and those in captive environments, by encouraging the development of 2-way communication with their caregivers (which Koko has had since she was a baby).
The Gorilla Foundation is now working on a multimedia sequel to the classic book, “Koko’s Kitten,” which has already reached millions of children worldwide, and has the power to motivate millions more to learn how to make the world a better place for all of its conscious inhabitants.
You can support The Gorilla Foundation mission of Conservation through Communication by visiting

Thank you!

Will close with this photograph seen ‘on the web’.

Graduate student Penny Paterson with a young Koko on her back not long after they met in 1971 in San Francisco. (The Daily Mail newspaper 2nd June, 2016.)

The science of love.

Yes, really!

Here’s a photograph of Pharaoh taken on the 3rd December, 2005. Taken in my home in Harberton, Devon, some two years before I met Jeannie.

It’s not the world’s best photograph but I start today’s post with it simply because there is a look in Pharaoh’s eyes that spells out love to me in capital letters. Always has since the day I took that photograph.

Here’s an enlargement of the photo offering a closer look at Pharaoh’s expression in those eyes.

Right from the very first moment that I held Pharaoh I sensed the start of a loving bond. Did I choose to love Pharaoh? Well, of course I did! Was it a conscious decision? I don’t think so!

All of which is my introduction to a fascinating essay about the science of love that recently appeared on the Care2 site.



Can You Choose to Love? Science Suggests You Can

By: Zoe Blarowski June 2, 2017

About Zoe

Love may often feel spontaneous and sometimes even out of control. But is it, really? Research is starting to show that you can change the intensity of love you feel towards others. Similar to emotions like fear or sadness, love can be influenced simply by how you think about a situation.

Is love under your control?

One study looked at altering love feelings in people who were either in a romantic relationship or had recently broken up from one. Each participant started by viewing pictures of their current lover or their ex-partner to bring up their current feelings towards them.

Then, researchers asked them to think about positive aspects of their partner, relationship or possible future scenarios. Their feelings towards their current or previous partners were assessed again.

The second part of the study asked participants to think of negative things about their partner, such as what’s wrong with them or their relationship.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that participants reported having greater love feelings after thinking positive thoughts. Whereas, they reported decreased lovingness after the negative thoughts. It was the same for everyone, whether they were in a relationship or had recently broken up.

Researchers felt this shows great potential for people to take more control of their emotional world, which could in turn benefit their lives and relationships.

Interestingly, thoughts also appeared to affect everyone’s overall mood and feelings about life in general. The positive thoughts improved people’s mood and disposition, whereas the negative thoughts brought everyone down.

This may highlight the importance of how positive and negative thoughts in general can affect our mental health.

How can you put this to use?

You can likely think of times in your own life when it would be helpful to either decrease or increase your love for another person.

Have you ever had an unwanted crush on someone? For instance, obsessing over a celebrity you’ll likely never meet can cause more frustration than joy in your life. Or maybe you’ve fallen for someone who’s not available, either physically or emotionally.

These are times when it’s in your best interest to end your attachment to the person and move on.

In addition, research has shown that thinking negatively about an ex-partner or your previous relationship helps you get over a break-up. The reverse is also true – if you think positively about an ex, it’s more difficult to heal and move on.

Keep this in mind if you’re going through a break-up, or need to reduce your feelings towards someone for another reason.

Try asking yourself questions like these:

  • What annoys me about this person?
  • Did we ever have a fight?
  • Why were we a bad match for each other?
  • What didn’t work in our relationship?
  • What could go wrong if we stayed together?

Reframing your thoughts is also a much healthier way to try to get over someone than taking self-destructive action to distract yourself, such as drinking too much.

On the other hand, the world always needs a lot more love to go around. Increasing your love towards others is often one of the best things you can do to help yourself and everyone in your life.

Unfortunately, the top reason married couples give for getting a divorce is growing apart and falling out of love. It’s true the intensity of love feelings usually fluctuates throughout a long-term relationship, but a decrease in feelings doesn’t have to mean the end.

If you’re starting to question whether or not you should stay in a long-standing relationship, take a closer look at your situation before making a final decision. Do you still respect and care for your partner? Do you still have lots in common? Is it possible you’re just in a temporary slump?

Questions like these may help to re-frame how you feel about your relationship:

  • What are some of your partner’s best qualities?
  • Why did you get together in the first place?
  • Are there things you’d like to do with your partner in the future?
  • What makes you a good match for each other?
  • Do you enjoy spending time with your partner?

Romantic partners who view each other in a positive light have been shown to actually have happier relationships. This is likely true for all relationships. Choosing more positive thoughts can go a long way towards creating greater harmony with all your loved ones.

Sharing your thoughts and telling others why you love them is even better.


As my dearest Jeannie will confirm, I have never been the most comfortable person in terms of verbalising my love for her, despite Jean being the dream loving partnership of my life. Jean, on the other hand, expresses her love for me many times each day.

Maybe this essay offers an insight into the different ways we love?

For Jean also tells the dogs individually many times each day that she loves them. I feel the same but don’t say it anything like as often.

So is science showing us why the difference between Jean and me? I think so.

Yet another thing that we learn from dogs. Or more specifically that I have to learn from dogs!

Tell them every day how much I love them!

Choosing a pet-sitter.

A guest post from Sloan McKinney.


Funny how things work.

The reason I start today’s post in such a fashion is that Jean and I have been mulling over how we might consider doing some traveling once we are down to six dogs. Indeed, to that end, just last week we met Jana Stewart, a local woman who came highly recommended and who has been in the pet industry for over 30 years.

The serendipitous aspect is that quite recently I received an email from a Sloan McKinney. This is part of what she wrote:

My name is Sloan McKinney and I am freelance writer and journalist and pet enthusiast. I just wanted to say that Learning from Dogs offers great information and advice about pet care issues.

I did happen to notice that you don’t have much information about pets and sitters, which I believe your readers would love to know more about, especially with many people having to leave their pets at home for travel or work.

Since your website contains relevant issues, I was wondering if you would be interested in sharing an infographic about choosing the right sitter for your pet.

More research quickly found Sloan’s background details:

Sloan McKinney is a journalist based in Southern California. After writing about pop culture for a number of years, she has recently begun writing for a new audience. Inspired by DeAnthony, her cat, as well as her dog Max, Sloan now hopes to help other pet owners guarantee their animal companions happy and healthy lives.

I replied that I would be delighted to receive Sloan’s guest post and her accompanying infographic. Here it is:


How to Choose A Professional Pet Sitter and Why It’s Important

by Sloan McKinney. 1st June, 2017.
If you live with a four-legged friend, you sure understand how nervous and stressful it can be to leave it at home alone for a couple of days.

However, so wags the world that we sometimes have to travel, and oftentimes it is impossible to bring our pets with us. When such a situation occurs, you find yourself in an ethical dilemma. You have to choose between an expensive pet hotel or a friend who’ll be coming to your place once per day to feed your ball of fluff. While the first option is not cost-efficient, the second one might put you into uncomfortable situation when you have to ask your friend or relative to spend time on something that is your responsibility. What a hard choice to make, huh?

But the good news is that there is a great alternative in between the two options described above. This option won’t make you drain your purse, not it will make you feel shy and uncomfortable. Wonder what is it? Pet sitter is the answer. Yes, you will have to pay some money, but the price will be reasonable. No, you won’t have to put pressure on your friends or family members. And the best part is that professional pet sitters know how to make friends with virtually any pet. After all, it’s their job, right?

If you need more reasons to get convinced that pet sitters are the best solution, here is the list of benefits. To begin with, professional pet sitters guarantee regular visits and care. Apart from it, they can get on the right side of even the most demanding pet (of course, it might be still hard even for professional pet sitters to tame a squirrel or raccoon living in your attic). What’s more, they will assure an easier separation for both you and your four-legged friend.

Still not sure it’s a good idea to hire a pet sitter for your favorite ball of fluff? Then you absolutely need to see this beautiful infographic:


Don’t know about you but Jean and I found that a very useful aide-memoir.

How did you find Sloan’s guest article? I would love to have your feedback.

Picture Parade One Hundred and Ninety-Eight

In celebration of Pharaoh’s 14th birthday yesterday.

(Long-term followers of this place will have seen many of these photos before.)

Just being a dog!


Luckily the training paid off! Pharaoh was fabulous around sheep!


Pharaoh riding the back of the Piper Super Cub


Pharaoh enjoying Bummer Creek.


On board the Dart Valley Steam Railway stopped at Buckfastleigh Station.


Pharaoh, relaxing in a Devon garden.


First meeting between Pharaoh and Cleo; April 7th, 2012.


Pharaoh with little Poppy, a stray found on a Mexican building site


Hi Pedy, I’m the bossman around here. Name’s Pharaoh and you’ll be OK.


Taken on the afternoon of Pharaoh’s birthday, June 3rd 2017.


The face of a King of dogs!

Happy Birthday dear Pharaoh

Beloved Pharaoh was born this day in 2003

I’m just going to share a few photos today and then devote tomorrow’s Picture Parade to other photographs of this wonderful, noble, indomitable friend.

The first day that Pharaoh was passed across to me. Devon, June 2003.


Puppy Pharaoh settling in to his new home.


Grand old man of 14!

Happy Birthday, Pharaoh, with fondest love from Jeannie and me and so, so many others who have known you directly and via the pages of this blog!

Who do you think you are?

Talk about extremes of topics!

Yesterday it was gliding, tomorrow it is going to be a celebration of Pharaoh’s 14th birthday and today it is about you!

Kadam Morten Clausen is a Buddhist teacher. Now I would be the first to stick up my arm and say that my understanding of Buddhism is pretty poor. But in the days many years back when I spent time exploring a number of Asian countries I found the culture surrounding Buddhism very appealing. (And I write as someone who is not a religious believer.)

Back to Morten Clausen.

The Kadampa Meditation Center in New York, where Kadam is a resident teacher, describe him as follows:

Kadam Morten Clausen is the Eastern US National Spiritual Director of the New Kadampa Tradition and Resident Teacher at the Kadampa Meditation Center New York City, and also Bodh Gaya Center in Bayside, Queens. For over 30 years he has been a close disciple of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who gave him the title “Kadam,” indicating that he is a senior lay teacher of the Kadampa Tradition.

Kadam Morten met his teacher, Geshe Kelsang, while attending university in England. He taught widely throughout the UK and helped develop many Kadampa Centers in England. Kadam Morten has been teaching in the US for more than 20 years and has established centers throughout the New York area, as well as Washington DC, Virginia, and Puerto Rico. In addition to his local teaching responsibilities, he teaches and guides retreats regularly throughout the United States and Europe.

Kadam Morten is greatly admired as a meditation teacher and is especially known for his clarity, humor and inspirational presentation of Dharma. His teachings are always practical and easy to apply to everyday life. Through his gentle and joyful approach and his peaceful example, he has helped many people find true happiness in their hearts.

So what’s this all about when I say that today’s post is about you?

Enjoy the following, recently published on the Big Think site:


Science and Buddhism Agree: There Is No “You” There

The ways our dogs speak to the world.

A republication of my post from August, 2016.

I am sharing this with you again because it so nicely complements the posts of the previous two days.

The ways our dogs speak to the world.

First published August 8th, 2016.

Dogs are very vocal creatures.

Anyone who has been close to dogs in their lives knows that they are frequently very vocal creatures. Likewise, anyone who has been close to a dog or two quickly learns to understand the basic emotions being conveyed by a dog’s vocal sounds.

But, nonetheless, there was an item over on the site recently that provided a comprehensive tutorial on listening and interpreting the sounds from our dogs. I wanted to share it with you today.


How to Interpret Your Dog’s Growls

1387750.large By: August 3, 2016

Speaking growls!

No better way to follow yesterday’s post.

Yesterday, I shared an article that had appeared on the Care2 site on the topic of the latest scientific inquiries into how dogs understand what we humans say. That had originally been published in September of 2015.

Published just three days ago, again via the Care2 site, was another article about the language of communication between our beloved dogs and us.

Here is is:


Humans Can Understand Dogs by the Sound of Their Growls

By: Elise Moreau May 27, 2017

About Elise Follow Elise at @elisem0reau

Dogs and humans certainly share a special bond. Previous research has shown that dogs in fact do understand what we’re saying and that they also try to figure out what we’re thinking by taking on our perspectives. Now, there’s evidence that humans can understand dogs too — by the sounds they make when they growl.

In this study, recordings of three different types of dog growls were taken from 18 different dogs of various breeds and sizes. They included aggressive guarding growls that were triggered when other dogs approached the growling dogs’ food, playful growls during a game of tug-of-war between dogs and threatened growls from dogs that were approached by strangers.

The guarding growls were typically longer and more drawn out than the playful growls, which were were shorter and more repetitive. The guarding growls could be differentiated from the threatened growls by their pitch and loudness, with the guarding growls having a lower and more intense pitch so that it sounded like it was coming from a bigger dog.

Forty participants were recruited to interpret the dog growls by listening to two sets of the recordings. For the first set, they were asked to judge the emotion behind each growl using a scale that measured the degree of aggressiveness, fear, sadness, happiness, and playfulness that they could pick up on. For the second set, they were asked to choose whether the dog growls came from a dog that was guarding food, playing, or feeling threatened.

It turns out that people can interpret dog growls accurately more often than not. The participants had a 63-percent overall accuracy rate for interpreting the dog growls. Playful growls were easiest to identify at an 81-percent accuracy rate while guarding growls had an accuracy rate of 60 percent followed by threatened growls at 50 percent.

The results suggest that humans are pretty good at interpreting dog growls in a broader context given that it was much easier to identify the playful growls from the other two. The guarding growls and the threatened growls both share displays of aggression, which could explain why it was a little more difficult for the participants to accurately identify them.

What’s even more interesting is that women and people who were already dog owners showed higher accuracy rates of identifying the growls. The researchers pointed out that women are known to have higher emotional sensitivity, which may help explain why their interpretations were more accurate. Likewise, dog owners probably used their experience to identify the growls, suggesting that people can be trained to get better at learning to understand dogs.

The researchers say that learning to identify the differences in dog growls could help reduce aggression in dogs as well as improve their behavior. So whether you’re a dog owner yourself or know someone who owns a dog, it might be an interesting experiment to tune in to the subtle sounds of their growls to see if you can understand what they’re trying to communicate.

Want to know more about what your dog’s growling means? Here’s some extra information on how to interpret your dog’s growls.


That last link did provide more valuable information for us dog lovers.

I republished it last August but it will certainly stand being shared with you again. Ergo, I will repeat that post from last year tomorrow.

Can’t resist closing with a picture of a dog speaking growl found randomly on the web.

There’s a nice doggy!

The science of understanding between dogs and humans.

How our dogs process what we say to them.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post Talking to One’s Dog. Many of you stopped by and left your comments, all of which was to confirm how much speaking to your dogs (and cats) is part of normal life for you.

I finished that post writing:

Let me close by reminding all you good people of yet another wonderful aspect of the relationship between humans and dogs. In that we all know the dog evolved from the grey wolf. But had you pondered on the fact that wolves don’t bark! Yes, they howl but they do not bark.

There is good science to underpin the reason why dogs evolved barking; to have a means of communicating with us humans.

Every person who has a dog in their life will instinctively understand the meaning of most, if not all, of the barks their dog utters.

Anyway, I was going through some websites yesterday and, quite by chance, came across that science that I referred to above. It was in a Care2 article published last September and I am republishing it below.


Yes, Dogs Apparently Do Understand What We’re Saying

By: Laura Goldman, September 5, 2016

About Laura Follow Laura at @lauragoldman

You might want to start spelling out some words around your dog. According to a new study, not only do dogs comprehend what we’re trying to tell them by the tone of our voices, but they can also even understand what it is we’re saying — sort of.

Neuroscientist Attila Andics and his fellow researchers at the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest discovered that just like human brains, a dog’s brain reacts to both the meaning of a word and how it is spoken. Just like us, the left hemisphere of a dog’s brain responds to meaning, while the right hemisphere responds to intonation.

The study, published August 30 in the journal Science, shows that even non-primate mammals who cannot speak can still comprehend the meanings of words in a speech-filled environment. This suggests that the ability of our brains to process words is not unique to humans, and may have evolved much earlier than previously thought.

Not only could these results help make communicating with our dogs more efficient, but the study sheds new light on the origin of words during language evolution. “What makes words uniquely human is not a special neural capacity, but our invention of using them,” Andics said in a press release.

While previous studies have observed dogs to see how they understand us, this is the first one that took a look inside their brains using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The 13 participants were all family pets. They included six border collies, five golden retrievers, a Chinese crested dog and a German shepherd.

To be tested, the dogs were first trained to lie still for eight minutes in the MRI machine while wearing headphones and a radio-frequency coil. (Based on the wagging tail of a Golden Retriever in the video below, this didn’t seem to bother at least one of the participants.) Their brain activity was recorded as they listened to a recording of their trainer saying, in both positive and neutral tones, words of praise – like “Good boy!” and “Well done!” – as well as neutral words like “however” and “as if.”

Not too surprisingly, the positively spoken positive words got a big reaction in the reward centers of the dogs’ brains. The positive words spoken neutrally and neutral words spoken with positive tones? Not so much.

Regardless of how they were spoken, the dogs processed the meaningful words in the left hemisphere of their brains. They processed intonation in the right hemisphere.

“There’s no acoustic reason for this difference,” Andics told Science. “It shows that these words have meaning to dogs. They integrate the two types of information to interpret what they heard, just as we do.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean dogs understand every single thing we say (although a Border Collie named Chaser understands over 1,000 words, which is pretty doggone remarkable).

Julie Hecht, a Ph.D. student studying canine behavior and cognition at City University of New York, offers this advice in Scientific American: “Before discussing this with your dog — ‘I knew you could understand me this whole time!’ — the caveat to this research is that a dog processing words — registering, ‘Ah! That’s familiar!’ — and a dog understanding words as you intend are not necessarily the same thing.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock


I have recounted this example before about how well our dogs listen to Jean and me.

For we take our dogs out for some playtime each day after our lunch. Years ago we used to chat about whether or not to have a cup of tea before taking the dogs for a walk. But pretty quickly once they heard the word “walk’ spoken aloud they were all crowding around the front door.

Then it was a case of spelling out the word: “W – A – L – K”. That lasted for, oh, two or three days.

Then it was using a variety of phrases that we thought would be meaningless to the dogs. That didn’t work!

And on and on.

Now, as soon as we are finishing up our food they are at the door. Jean and I now delay our hot drink to later on!

The most beautiful human – animal relationship in the world!

Picture Parade One Hundred and Ninety-Seven

Continuing with Janet’s wonderful pictures.

(The last set from Janet were published a fortnight ago.)








Going to round off today’s picture parade with a photograph of our growing Canadian geese goslings. The photograph was taken at 7:30pm two evenings ago. I would imagine that we aren’t that far off them all taking to the wing!