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How Do You Talk Dog?

Crumbly Writer

Facing a dilemma. I've got a story with an intelligent talking dog (using telepathy), but I'm sure what 'voice' to give him. Just having written one story with demons, dragons and devils, each with their own particular speech patterns, I hate the idea of having him sound just like any other human (being incredibly intelligent, he learned to read while his owner read to his little sister, so he's the official 'voice of knowledge' for a whole group of intelligent animals.

So, aside from having him sniff, or adding "Woo-" to every sentence, does anyone have any ideas for conveying how a dog might think, especially when conversing with humans and (alternately) other animals? Right now, my lack of addressing the issue leaves him with no visible personality, even though he definitely has opinions on a wide variety of topics.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

r own particular speech patterns, I hate the idea of having him sound just like any other human (being incredibly intelligent, he learned to read while his owner read to his little sister, so he's the official 'voice of knowledge' for a whole group of intelligent animals.

So, aside from having him sniff, or adding "Woo-" to every sentence, does anyone have an


In my story https://storiesonline.net/s/73034/son-of-chronos-book-1-origin

I deal with something similar. A dog with human level intelligence, an ability to "speak" that is not identical to but related to telepathy*.

Some things to consider.

If it's true telepathy, you might want to have the dog communicate with the thought of scents and images rather than "language".

If you want to have the dog using human languages:

How familiar is the dog with the predominant language in the story? You can show the dog learning human language by having it start with poor grammar and a limited vocabulary.

Keep in mind, that scent is very important to dogs.

They communicate via scent markers (some trainers actually call this pee-mail).

They recognize individuals more by scent than by sight.

They identify what's theirs to a significant degree by how much it's smells like themselves.

Have the dog use dog related terminology for things.

Children are puppies no matter the parent's species

have the dog use female or bitch rather than woman/girl.

A dog will see his human, his human's family, and their other pets as his "pack".

* it involves transmitting a signal not to the thought / language centers of the brain, but rather to the auditory nerve to create the illusion of speech.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Sensible suggestions, while I'll incorporate, but I'm looking for the particular 'voice'. The premise is, as I outlined, that he learned to read by observing the words in the picture books as his owner read the words to his little sister as they were all growing up. Later on, he started carrying books he wanted him to read during story time, often cradling in his lap while he was studying for school, so his 'reading' is relatively advanced, although his English usage may not be (never having been taught the basic rules of grammar, and with no way of communicating concepts like punctuation and spelling to his animal cohorts). Though, following your advice, I can certainly see him, closing in on a chase, announcing 'smells like victory blood to me!"

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

while I'll incorporate, but I'm looking for the particular 'voice'.


if you are looking for pronunciation distinctions:

Stretch out R sounds, think of a dog growling. This should be particularly pronounced when the dog is angry.

Stretch oo, ou, and aa sounds as if reminiscent of a dog howling or a hound baying. particularly pronounced when sad, lonely or yelling(wild canines use howling to communicate over long distances).

Geek of Ages

When I wrote a werewolf character once upon a time, I faced a similar dilemma. I ended up extrapolating the "short attention span" into speech patterns. She spoke primarily in simple sentences, preferring single statements to relative clauses, commas, or dashes or the like. It was a careful balance to not make her sound too stupid, but it ended up giving her a very different rhythm (especially when the omniscient third-person narrator was using her general perspective) from the other characters, which was nicely distinct.

Your mileage may vary.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Geek of Ages

It was a careful balance to not make her sound too stupid, but it ended up giving her a very different rhythm (especially when the omniscient third-person narrator was using her general perspective) from the other characters, which was nicely distinct.

Sensible advice. Unfortunately, this 'character' is the one the most in the know, so will spend quite a bit of time detailing what's happening, though often indirectly though the owner character.

Elongating the long vowels makes sense, as it should give the voice a 'natural' feel, much the way my dragons all had a lisp.

Geek of Ages

Personally, I get tired really quickly of fonetik die-oh-log. Contractions and weird grammar are generally okay, but half the time when authors do things to the spelling, I'm left scratching my head at what a character is saying.

Especially if I don't know which particular dialect of English the author speaks, or if I'm not familiar with the dialect they're trying to reproduce.

That's why I tend to do this sort of thing with syntax and word choice.

sunkuwan

Stephen King had a "thinking" dog in "The Dome"

You could also take pointers from Larians "Divinity Original Sin" (PC game).
Something like a fast speech, erratic pattern, and often fast changes of what he says.

Ross at Play

You might get some ideas by watching episode S05E05 of The Goodies (a 1970s BBC sitcom) called 'Frankenfido'.
A dog in this episode appeared on the TV quiz show Mastermind and answered every question correctly - giving either "arf", "ruff", or "owl" as their answer.

Replies:   REP
REP
Updated:

@Ross at Play

Voice for human interaction is often defined by the personalities of the characters and their relationship to the MC.

In defining your canine's voice, I suggest you first consider the relationship dogs have with humans. To me dogs typically have a submissive relationship and seem to want to placate their owners. So is your canine character going to take that role or have a more dominate personality. You didn't define whether the dog is the MC or a supporting character and I think that would make a difference. I suspect the dog is a supporting character, so how will it interact with humans? Does breed have a bearing on voice? I would think the dog's personality and voice would be different for a small, nervous breed and a large aggressive breed. Is the dog expressing personal thoughts and feelings or representing the canine world?

The way I see it, we don't have enough information about the canine character's role in the story to provide you with a good response.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@REP

In defining your canine's voice, I suggest you first consider the relationship dogs have with humans. To me dogs typically have a submissive relationship and seem to want to placate their owners. So is your canine character going to take that role or have a more dominate personality. You didn't define whether the dog is the MC or a supporting character and I think that would make a difference. I suspect the dog is a supporting character, so how will it interact with humans? Does breed have a bearing on voice? I would think the dog's personality and voice would be different for a small, nervous breed and a large aggressive breed. Is the dog expressing personal thoughts and feelings or representing the canine world?

That's tricky, because the only human in the story who can hear the animal's telepathy is the dog's supposed 'master', so the only time you 'hear' the dog is when he's lecturing his human. On the other hand, the dog is the current leader of the animal movement, as he knows more about humans, how they think and what they know, that the many pets who have no clue what humans are actually talking about. What's more, the entire time he's been living under his human family's roof, he's been orchestrating a 'revolt' to replace humanity. In the end, even though he's not supposed to, he brings them along because he can't abandon his pack, which leads to a continuing sense of conflict for the few humans, so continually have to prove both their value and their non-threatening actions.

Of course, the reasons for all of these stances are the substance of the plot, so I can't really reveal them without giving away much of the overall story.

But since the dog in question, Bowser is his name, doesn't talk often, it's usually to explain fairly complicated 'facts' to his former human owner, who then puts it into words for the skittish humans, also expanding on the scientific validity of what he's proposing, as a way of justifying what he's saying. Thus the dog has be extremely knowledgeable, even as he needs to 'sound' non-human (different cadence, different manner of speaking and acting).

Replies:   REP
Jay Cantrell

Roobie-Roobie-Roo!

Oh, wait! Sorry.

REP

@Crumbly Writer

Sounds to me like you answered your own question. Bowser is a dominate canine so a self confident voice would be appropriate. In visualizing Bowser, I would see Tramp in Disney's movie appropriate if you give Bowser a more serious attitude. However, to dominate his pack, I would see him as a larger breed than an Airedale, perhaps a Rottweiler or very large Shepard with a gruffer tone to his voice. Since Bowser can read, I would not have him butchering the language. As Geek of Ages said, odd spellings wouldn't be appropriate.

Ross at Play

I would suggest grammatically correct but unnatural speech mannerisms, for example
* Minimum length sentences, e.g. never use conjunctions to join clauses except perhaps the forms 'if ... then ...' and '... but ...'
* Use some connecting words, perhaps including 'as' and 'to' in every situation possible, but never use others
* Absolutely no descriptive adjectives or adverbs, but I expect determiners and the of-form of possessives will be essential
* Strict subject + verb + object + adverbial-phrase order of sentences. Appositives may need preliminary defining sentences
Throw in some, "Do you understand?" questions. Make it clear the dog thinks it needs to use baby talk to communicate with the dumb human.

Ross at Play

Does the dog hear the human's reactions, or does it smell fear, happy, confused, angry, submission, ...

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Does the dog hear the human's reactions, or does it smell fear, happy, confused, angry, submission, ...

Good advice on constructing Bowser's language, as it's essentially the same I used for my demons and devils in my last book, though again, it'll be tricky. Bowser is THE go to guy for the entire newly intelligent animal kingdom, and has been organizing everyone while hiding it from his human 'family'/pack. He KNOWS the humans have to go for everyone benefits, but he just can't bring himself to do away with the humans who raised him. The other animals (mostly wild) have no similar sense of restraint, so the humans are constantly on their toes, trying to do whatever they can to win friends.

He also communicated with ALL the animals, but because of their history, the story's MC is the ONLY human who can hear him, although Bowser has also been in communication with the unidentified alien race who decides to avoid another 80 million rebuilding process following an almost complete die-off event, so he's got to convey some fairly complex details, which his 'human' translates into scientific terms for the humans.

I was originally thinking he would be a 'social dog' like a retriever (think 'golden' for sociability or 'does everything their own way' like a Chesapeake (highly intelligent but also incredibly stubborn). These are large dogs, but used to both human and dog social customs. Thus he'd think of himself as the new 'top dog' in both animal social settings and within his human family. Essentially, he 'humans' are like your troublesome family members, you know it's better off letting them face their problems (their eventual demise) on their own, but you just can't bring yourself to abandon them). This is 'Your last chance' for all of humanity, in the case of three isolated teens who just happened to be in the right place at the WRONG time!

I'll have to try experimenting some more with particular speech patterns (sentence construction, rather than accent patterns) give what I've learned from other alien races I've created until I find something which suits Bowser.

Ross, I might have to bounce a couple ideas (sample dialogues) off of you at some point to see what you think of them, since we seem to be on the same page on this.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Ross, I might have to bounce a couple ideas (sample dialogues) off of you at some point to see what you think of them, since we seem to be on the same page on this.

I always knew someone would appreciate my unique outlook on things someday. :-)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I always knew someone would appreciate my unique outlook on things someday.

Nah, we just appreciate you improper sentences and grammar! It's perfect for dogs and dragons.

boydpercy

I'm surprised that no one mentioned Harlan Ellison's book, A Boy and His Dog.

Crumbly Writer

@boydpercy

I'm surprised that no one mentioned Harlan Ellison's book, A Boy and His Dog.

My book parallels that quite a bit, but with a non-nuclear end of the world.

Crumbly Writer

@boydpercy

I'm surprised that no one mentioned Harlan Ellison's book, A Boy and His Dog.

I hate to say it (mainly because I should have checked it before ever asking the question in the first place), but Ellison's 'voice' of Blood is perfect. Without resorting to elongated vowels, or references to dog's focus on smells and scents, he accomplishes just what I'm looking for without dumbing Blood down—in fact, he does the opposite—dumbing Vic down, which is exactly what I'm going for. In mine, the human 'owner' knows all the details, but has no clue what's actually happening, while his dog, who never had any education—and thus doesn't know precisely how to structure sentences properly—not only knows what's about to happen, but is clearly in a leadership position while his 'family' is struggling just to survive.

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