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Back in March, I proposed a battle of wits between my baby and my dog.

It didn’t seem so far fetched, back then. Owl was still speaking in mostly single-word sentences, although with signs he often made two or three word combinations. The average dog has been judged to have the intelligence of an 18-22 month old.

My fellow dog trainer has seen dogs who have learned to differentiate between written words.


To be honest, I was sort of rooting for Beloved Dog, because COME ON, that would have been an AWESOME result.

The problem was, it wasn’t really a fair contest. I could work on Owl’s word recognition at various points throughout the day, like after breakfast, and in the bath, plus he got alphabet work at Daycare.

Beloved Dog got maybe a couple of minutes before his dinner every night.

Within a month, Owl had learned to recognize five words: Ball, Apple, Dog, Car, and Foot. Eye gave him some trouble, as did Bear.

I figured out pretty fast that Owl was not recognizing the word as a whole: he was recognizing the word based on the first letter only.

I was disappointed with this result, but he was still doing way better than Beloved Dog.

I managed to teach Beloved Dog to sit when I held up the “sit” card within a single session, and things were looking good. Unfortunately, when I introduced a second word, things went downhill.

Beloved Dog is paying zero attention to the actual words on the cards. He knows that he should sit sometimes, and down other times, but he’s never sure which he should be doing.

I got disheartened and put the cards away, which wasn’t quite fair to him. I should bring them out and work them more, give him another chance, because Owl has left Beloved Dog IN HIS DUST.

I was able to introduce some more written words to Owl’s vocabulary, but Owl continued to recognize them based on first letter. Watch this video, how he’s guessing the word before I’ve even finished writing it, based on the first letter.

In fact, I began to feel that he was getting entirely the wrong idea from his alphabet work at daycare, and now believed that A MEANT Apple, and B MEANT Ball, and so on. So he just dismissed the trailing letters as meaningless.

And then (and I’m still debating the wisdom of this choice) I downloaded a trial version of a toddler iphone app.

Yes, let the judging begin.

Aside: I have very mixed feelings about letting kids use technology like iphones. First, there’s health. Cell phones are known to give out radiation. Now, I don’t have an iphone, I have an ipod, but I’m not sure that’s really the point.

Second, I think that interacting with the real world is an important part of growing up, and that too many video games robs children of active play.

Nor do I agree with people who say that children should be exposed to technology, since they’ll need it to function in today’s world. I didn’t have an ipod until last Christmas, and I learned to use it within days. I didn’t need to start from toddlerhood. It’s not that hard.

On the other hand, videogames aren’t the demons some make them out to be. People who play a lot of video games have been found to have faster reaction times, better decision making skills, and better fine motor control. Put it this way – if you’re ever looking for a heart or brain surgeon, choose one who owns a video game console and plays it regularly.

Anyway, I couldn’t be a hypocrite – I was always playing on that ipod and Owl wanted to play too, so I found something educational and let him at it. The game was First Words Sampler, a free version of several different paid game options. The idea is for the child to take letters scattered over the screen and slot them into  the correct order to spell the word.

So it’s basically a matching game – put the C in the slot that says “C”, and so on. But a voice announced each letter, and when the word is complete, the word is spelled aloud and then a moving picture and an accompanying sound bite of the object in question – a cat meowing or whatever, is played.

Owl loves it. He could play it forever, which is a problem so we don’t let him have it very often.

Then I discovered something. One day while were playing with words on his magnadoodle with the usual mixed success, I wrote out and spelled aloud one of the words from his game. He recognized it immediately.

I found that he could identify all of the words from that game. He sits there and actually puzzles it out, letter by letter, and then announces the word.

Meanwhile, Beloved Dog has learned to spin in a circle on command. So that’s something.

Let’s give them both an A for effort, shall we? That ought to confuse both of them.