How the Nazis taught dogs to speak
A new book of canine curiosities includes stories of how members of the Nazi SS tried to teach dogs to speak German, both vocally and by tapping out letters on a keyboard, much as chimpanzees are taught to do in laboratories today.
The book, Amazing Dogs, A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities, by Jan Bondeson, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, describes how some of the dogs were able to learn foreign languages, and several learned to imitate the human voice. One of them was said to have spoken the words “Mein Fuhrer” when asked who Adolf Hitler was.
Hitler himself was a well-known animal-lover and part-vegetarian who encouraged the government to introduce progressive wildlife and environmental laws and often castigated Herman Goering for going hunting. But Hitler’s invasions were devastating to animals and the environment everywhere he went.
“Part of the Nazi philosophy was that there was a strong bond between humans and nature,” Dr. Bondeson said. “They believed a good Nazi should be an animal friend. Indeed, when they started interning Jews, the newspapers were flooded with outraged letters from Germans wondering what had happened to the pets they left behind.”
All in all, the Nazis thought little of human right, but a lot about animal rights.
The government set up a special dog school, the Tier-Sprechschule ASRA, to teach dogs to speak and to communicate better with their handlers in the elite SS. One of their first success stories was Rolf, an Airedale terrier, who communicated by tapping his paw on a board, with each letter being represented by a certain number of taps. A Dachshund named Kurwenal learned to spell out words by barking a certain number of times for each letter. Rolf was also supposedly able to discuss religion and to learn poetry.
Bondeson described how Hitler wanted well-educated dogs who could participate in an intelligent way in the war effort. “Still, it appears to have been very early days,” he said, “and there is no evidence it ever actually came to fruition and that the SS were walking around with talking dogs.”
The book contains many other unusual stories of dogs, including:
• A Border collie in the 1750s whose ability to spell and do calculations led people to believe he was a reincarnation of Pythagoras.
• Carlo, a Newfoundland dog, who was a celebrated actor in London from 1803 until 1811, and had plays specially written for him.
• Don the Speaking Dog toured the world barking out words like “Hungry! Give me cakes!” and had a great reception in New York.
What do you say? What do you think of people training dogs to “talk” and develop other abilities? Does your dog do anything remarkable like this? Let us know in a comment below or on Facebook.