A Story About Dogs

Dogs are splendid creatures.

In 2006, I was a speaker at InfosecCon in Cavtat, on the Adriatic. The conference was pretty good, but there were a few speakers after me who were going non-English (I can handle American English, French, a bit of Spanish) and I was hungry, so I went in search of food.

There were a few restaurants along the harbor’s edge and I settled in with some pizza and a carafe of red wine, opened a book and passed some time. I was getting slightly woozy from the sun and jet-lag, when an older fellow came walking past with a glorious dog. The dog was a youngish but very, very serious Bearnese Shepherd, alertly looking around for threats or perhaps goats that needed rescuing. The dog saw me, and without thinking, I made moochy noises, “hey, buddy.”

It was remarkable – the dog froze and looked at me, obviously curious and alert, but something was wrong; everything about the dog’s body language said “something wrong.” The dog and I stared at each other in consternation. Then the old man said, “dog does not speak English.”

One of the things I love about some dogs is their sensitivity and common sense approach to things. They are supremely excellent at being dogs, and some of them know it. After the old man came over and said a few things to the dog, his tail was wagging and he came over for some nose-boops. They left me with a smile on my face that has lasted ever since.

The conference had a reception that evening, which was held in Dubrovnik, further up the coast, and we took what can only be described as a “booze boat.” It was a good way to get to know some of the other security practitioners who were there.


I had a weird conversation later that evening in a pub in the main square of town. One of the locals, who was with the conference, pointed up to the impressive mountain-ridge overlooking the town, “The Serbs were right up there with artillery. We could wave at them and they would shoot at us.” Another of the people at the table, a fellow from Montenegro said, “I lived through that time, too.” And the other person at the table, a former US Army infantryman said, “me too.” So I said, “this is my first time in Dubrovnik, and it’s lovely,” and ordered everyone a round.

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Another person wrote a review of the conference [Bianco]


  1. says

    My dogs have always had two languages, English and Lakota. The Lakota is for serious business, and they change completely when they hear it.

  2. says

    Mark Twain: If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

  3. cartomancer says

    My cat is an accomplished linguist. She ignores me in English, German, Latin and Classical Greek.

  4. robert79 says

    Our dog was bilingual, but that was because the only commands she would obey sounded the same in Dutch and English (sit/zit, come here / kom hier, no/nee, let loose / laat los)

    About the artillery — I heard exactly the same story, also on a conference in Dubrovnik. Lovely town, lovely people, and everybody seemed a bit flabbergasted that their neighbours suddenly started shooting them. They also pointed at some dents in the city walls made by the artillery, I think those got fixed up when they started filming Game of Thrones there.

  5. says

    Our family has a weird history with dogs. My grandad in Alabama had an Alsatian (you never said “german shepard ” around him.) It took commands in romansch (rhaeto-romance). We ourselves had a dachshund who looked at ya funny if you tried german. Then there was our big dogs, Irish Setters. We live under the highway so they were desensitized to car noises, but soon as we were out at the farm (rural central WA) they were barking at every little noise in the night.

  6. chigau (違う) says

    I have tried saying “meow” to cats in Japan, they seemed to understand.
    That is, they ignored me.

  7. markp says

    The question is, would the dog have understood the moochy noises by themselves? Is there a universal dog-human language?

  8. derek lactin says

    I can speak fluent ‘cat’… For example, mowrren? is a gentle acknowledgement/greeting. prrrout? is an invitation to play…. But only in Canada. In China and Korea they don’t respond in any way. One possibility is that cats also have regional dialects.

  9. Raucous Indignation says

    Our puppies are being raised bilingual, English (North American, East Coast) and German (Berlin).

  10. Onamission5 says

    One seeming advantage of using affirmative or negative noises and hand signals rather than words for some inter species communication is that our malamute responds more or less the same way regardless of primary language spoken by the human.

    And by more or less the same I mean he’ll swamp pretty much everyone he meets in an excited flurry of wags, sniffs, licks, and hair. (lol)