Yes, my golden retriever Wesley spoke five languages. Was he a universal translator with high potential for a career at the United Nations? Unfortunately not. Our furry polyglot didn’t speak human languages, but rather languages for humans.
Each person he loved got a different style of communication, expertly tailored for their personality. In a family with five sons, this isn’t an easy feat. It takes a studious nature and attention to details.
Welsey spoke “Jonathan,” a fast-paced racing speech, full of energy with the potential for fun, and “David,” sweet and full of emotion, and then my greeting, low and near growling, accentuated with deep wub wub wubs. No two sounded the same.
My brothers and I are very close in age and with every passing year, another person graduated high school and left the family den. His bustling home became quiet and my parents could clearly see that he missed us. They frequently found him napping in our empty beds and he was often seen carrying left behind articles of our clothing room to room.
When we returned, so did his languages. The car door would barely be opened before a spectacle of golden fury would be unleashed upon us. He would throw his body in circles, wailing as he turned, incapable of containing his excitement. There was so many adventures, smells, and sounds that we had missed, and he needed to tell us all about them. But most importantly, he needed to tell us how much he loved us. Nothing sang louder in my heart that I was home than that deep growling wub wub wub of Wesley.
That's what dogs do. They love us. They love us so much that they take the time to learn our idiosyncrasies. This isn't just something dog owners tell themselves — they are scientifically proven to learn our feelings and both dogs and humans alike get a healthy dose of oxytocin when bonding, the same hormone released when bonding with your children. This connection naturally leads dogs to be able to understand our facial expressions, and listen to what we have to say, so much so that researchers have concluded that "processing vocal sounds and emotions is fundamental to who [dogs] are".
And as for communicating back? Well, researchers estimate we are 10 years away from being able to purchase a universal translator for our pets — but I didn't need one to understand Wesley. His message was always clear.
Wesley was an incredibly special dog, his phonetic styling was only one of his wonderful quirks. He sadly passed away after a battle with cancer two years ago, but shortly before he passed he gave me one last gift. He let me know my wife was fully accepted into the family when, in all earnestness, he switched between greeting me in that familiar low grumble, to a high-pitched sing-song hello when my wife followed me through the door.