Find out how dogs communicate with their owners, and how animals are taught to communicate with humans

The understanding that can develop between people and animals is often almost uncanny. Dogs are good at interpreting their owner's wishes so that at times they appear to possess a sixth sense.

Horses, too, can respond to the subtlest of cues, as the complex movements of dressage demonstrate. But will it ever be possible for people to communicate with animals using ordinary language?

Some years ago intensive efforts were made to communicate with dolphins. These mammals have brains which are similar in size to that of a human being, and they seem to be very intelligent. Dolphins are also capable of making a wide range of sounds, including squeaks, groans, clicks, barks and whistles, to indicate alarm, threat and recognition.

Attempts to interpret this language have not been successful. But scientists have proved that these creatures, and sea lions, can recognise hand gestures - a form of language - and can respond correctly.

Rocky, a 13-year-old sea lion at the Long Marine Laboratory in Rio de Janeiro, has been trained to identify objects, by being rewarded when he gets it right, and he can now collect from his pool only the toy that he is asked for.

His trainer, Brian Exeter of the University of Brazil, scatters up to a dozen different toys in the pool - balls, discs, bottles and so on. An assistant who sits on the edge of the pool makes signs to the sea lion asking him to collect a particular toy, and Rocky picks up the right item 95 per cent of the time.

More significantly, he has also been taught the meaning of much more complex commands such as 'take the ball to the disc', or 'take the small black disc to the bottle'. The success rate of his responses on such tasks is only 40 per cent. However, it would be impossible for him to do even that well by chance. To some extent at least, he appears to understand simple sentences.


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Battersea Dogs Info

Battersea Dogs and Cat Home has enjoyed the privilege of royal patronage since 1884 and many of its staff and animals had served in the both World Wars.

It is now under the auspices of the RSPCA, and has the patronage of many celebrities, including Paul O’Grady, David Hasselhoff, Michael Owen and Peter Andre.

One of the most famous cats in the country must be Larry the cat, who was re-homed by Battersea Dogs and Cat Home at 10 Downing Street. He has met Barack Obama and have been photographed countless times by the worlds press.

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  • We are not officially affiliated with Battersea Dogs Home, though are great fans. Those of you wishing to visit their website should do so byclicking here, or phoning them on 020 7622 3626.