Many animals can learn to understand human language, and some even learn to speak it. Studies involving primates, dolphins, and domesticated animals confirm what any dog owner already knows: No matter what language we speak, the animals we interact with know the meaning of some of our words.

The average dog knows 165 human words, and smart ones can more than 250 words — about the same as a two-year-old human. An elephant named Koshik learned to imitate six words of human speech — in Korean — and use them to communicate with his trainers. Seals and sea lions in captivity learn to understand several human words, and some learn to speak it, including a harbor seal named Hoover who was raised in a Maine household and learned to say, “Hello there!” and “Hey! Hey! Come over here!” in a New England accent.

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Batard dog and tabby cat, Felis catus, resting together indoors. (Auscape/UIG via Getty Images)

Humans have long held themselves as a species apart. It’s a cross-cultural theory of exceptionalism, held as tightly in Chengdu, China as Chicago, United States. As the canniest, most productive and most dominant species on the planet, we allow ourselves dominion over all other creatures, great and small. We spray great swaths of land with insecticides to kill mosquitoes that threaten our health. We live-capture juvenile whales to be trained for our entertainment. After all, human welfare is paramount, and those other creatures aren’t believed capable of feeling depressed, isolated or endangered.

This point was driven home with a strangely retrograde vote in the UK’s House of Commons last November. In the course of Brexit negotiations, Members of Parliament were tasked with choosing which EU policies they will adhere to as the UK withdraws from the EU. They elected to bow out of a law recognizing animal sentience. MPs later called this claim a mischaracterization, because public outrage was dramatic — denying sentience denies that animals can feel pain, form thoughts, or experience any emotion.

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A boy and his St. Bernard happy being messy, dirty and muddy. (Getty Images)

Parents: worried about getting a dog because of all those hair-covered couches and piles of dirt? Relax. It turns out dogs’ dander and bacteria might actually be good for kids.

Two studies presented at the annual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) meeting in late October found a positive relationship between keeping dogs in the home and reduced rates of eczema and asthma in young children.

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When he looks up at you with those big puppy dog eyes, do you ever feel like your dog is trying to tell you something? According to a new study out of the U.K.’s University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Center, you may just be right.

In a study of 24 dogs of various breeds, researchers tied each dog to a leash three feet away from a person. The dogs’ faces were filmed throughout a range of exchanges, from the person facing toward the dog, to being distracted with her body turned away from the dog. Throughout the interactions, the dogs’ faces were measured using DogFACS, a coding system that gives a measurement of facial changes.

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On Friday, October 13, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill prohibiting the state’s pet stores from selling any dogs, cat, or rabbits that didn’t come from an animal shelter or rescue organization. The law will take effect in January 2019, and it’s the first of its kind to prohibit such sales across an entire state.

Similar laws have been passed in hundreds of municipalities across the US, including 36 in California alone. These laws are part of a campaign by animal rights advocates to reduce the number of animals suffering in inhumane conditions in puppy mills — as well as their feline equivalents, kitten factories. Rabbit sales are also covered in the bill.

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If you’ve ever seen your cat staring at paper or pawing at the curtains, or your dog gazing off into empty space, a new discovery explains that your pets do indeed see something you cannot.

A paper published in the biological research journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reveals that dogs, cats and many other mammals can see ultraviolet light (UV), providing evidence that cats and dogs do in fact see things that are invisible to the human eye. While some readers have speculated these animals are seeing spirits and ghosts, science reveals that this ability is not supernatural in origin, but instead rooted in biology.

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[DIGEST: New Scientist, Esquire, Science]

Dog owners know their furry friends go into a tail-wagging fit when called a “good boy!” in a cheerful voice. It turns out that dogs really do understand those words, according to a new study published in Science. Hungarian researchers found that dogs use their brains to process both words spoken and tone to determine the meaning behind them. The team says this duality means dogs’ brains process speech similarly to humans.

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