dogs mimic their owners’ behavior—and their language!

AH, THE QUIRKS of human lan­guage, es­pe­cially re­garding the con­crete world in which we live, rather than the made-up world of the rational—and hope­fully ratiocinating—human brain/mind. The “cre­ation of words that im­i­tate nat­ural sounds” is known as ono­matopoeia (Merriam-Webster), a past-time that has ap­par­ently en­gaged and de­lighted hu­mans since we stum­bled upon/invented language.

Those an­i­mals that make sounds with the least amount of vari­ance tend to have ono­matopo­et­i­cally sim­ilar sounds as­signed them in var­ious lan­guages. For ex­ample, nearly every lan­guage has a cow making moo-like noise, while most cats meow, and all cuckoos go cuckoo. *

But what of man’s best friend? That is a very dif­ferent story in­deed. The sounds at­trib­uted to dogs in var­ious lan­guages varies as much as dogs vary in ap­pear­ance and per­son­ality. Here are some of the enor­mous vari­a­tions of the dog’s sound in var­ious languages:

Al­a­banian: ham ham
Catalan, bup bup
• Chi­nese,
wang wang
• Greek,
gav gav
Ice­landic, voff voff
• In­done­sian,
gong gong
• Uk­tranian,
haf haf

And those ras­cally Ital­ians give it the same sound as Eng­lish but spell it bau bau!


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This dog has been re­mark­ably well trained, al­though readers should not think that they can du­pli­cate this suc­cess with their own pets.

Dogs develop regional accents

Ac­cording to the Ca­nine Be­hav­iour Centre, dogs can even de­velop re­gional ac­cents! CBC re­searchers con­cluded that “dogs im­i­tate their owners in order to bond with them; the closer the bond, the closer the sim­i­larity in sound.”

As for bonding, anec­dotes, jokes, and car­toons abound con­cerning the sim­i­larity in ap­pear­ance (and often, the dis­po­si­tion and tem­pera­ment) of many dogs to their owners.

In Disney’s 101 Dal­ma­tians (the an­i­mated film from 1961), the ca­nine pro­tag­o­nist Pongo de­cides to hook up his owner, peren­nial bach­elor and human pro­tag­o­nist Roger Rad­cliffe, with a human mate. He does this by checking out the dogs that are at­tached to the avail­able hu­mans. In a cute bit of girl-watching, Pongo checks out var­ious pair­ings and eval­u­ates them. 1