Dogs can swear

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Here at Language Log we've commented a lot about the media's coverage of animal communication (birds, monkeys, cows, etc.) but, as far as I know, none of this has dealt with animals that actually swear oaths of office. So I'll remedy this omission by referring to a few media articles about police dogs that swear.

From Decatur, Georgia we read that a police dog is a "sworn officer." This article doesn't explain how the dog did the swearing, but the police must believe that he raised his front forepaw and did it somehow. And over a year ago another media article announced a similar swearing in ceremony in Fresno, California, where two new K9 officers, Kubo and Elvis, were about to be sworn in.

Slate's Explainer column picked up on these articles and asked the obvious question: "How does a police animal take the oath of office?" Then the explainer answered the question:

In some cases, the police chief administers the human oath of office to the dog, and the handler affirms on the dog's behalf. In rare instances, the dog is trained to bark in affirmation of the oath.

I don't know how they determine an affirmative bark from a, well, regular old bark and I'm also a bit confused about how one can affirm "on behalf" of another. We weren't given the exact wording of the oath ceremony but I would imagine that it went something like this:

Police Chief: Do each of you solemnly swear to uphold the laws of this city and to protect its citizens?

Recruits: I do.

Canines: Arf.

The dogs' responses, of course, might be "yip," or "ruff," depending on their dialects.

An aspect of the swearing in oath administered to dogs gets even more interesting when it takes on a multilingual angle. Since many police dogs are trained in foreign countries, such as Germany and The Netherlands, they learn to respond to commands in German or Dutch before they are purchased by American police departments. This may cause the handlers to learn these languages in order to get the results they want.

Volg? Take that, you English Only advocates.




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