Chasing Doctor Dolittle

Learning the Language of Animals

St. Martin's Press

"Slobodchikoff's ground-breaking research" (Jonathan Balcombe) shows us that animals have much to teach us about language

Groundbreaking research has been done teaching animals human language, but what about the other way around? Studies have shown that lizards, squid, monkeys, and birds are talking to each other, communicating information about food, predators, squabbles, and petty jealousies. These animal languages are unique and highly adaptive. By exploring them, we come to appreciate the basis of our own languages; understanding or even “speaking” them allows us to get closer to the other species who inhabit this planet with us. The implications of animals having language are enormous. It has been one of the last bastions separating “us” from “them.”

Slobodchikoff's studies of the communication system of prairie dogs over twenty-five years have attracted a considerable amount of attention from the media, including a one-hour documentary on his work produced by BBC and Animal Planet.

In Chasing Doctor Dolittle, he posits that the difference is one of degree, not the vast intellectual chasm that philosophers have talked about for millennia. Filled with meticulous research, vivid examples and daring conclusions, this book will challenge the reader's assumptions and open up new possibilities of understanding our fellow creatures.


Read an Excerpt


Do animals have language? When they make sounds, are they really speaking? Can you imagine how the world would change if we found out that they really do have something to say? People have long been fascinated with the idea that animals can talk. I have been interested in this idea for a long time, which has prompted me to spend many years decoding the language of prairie dogs through experiments in the field and the laboratory. As far back as 2,500 years ago, Aesop’s fables featured animals talking to one another. Even today, we might

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Praise for Chasing Doctor Dolittle

"[Slobodchikoff] seemlessly intersperses wry, fascinating animal examples of language use and style with examples of human interaction that illuminate the complexity of animal comminication. [He] puts the world of animal communication into a realm that readers can readily understand  appreciate, and marvel at. Highly recommended.--Library Journal 

“Con Slobodchikoff has done some fantastic work on animal communication. His research on prairie dog language is mind-blowing.”--Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation

“Con Slobodchikoff is a highly respected scientist who is able to translate the results of groundbreaking scientific studies into a popular format that is easy for anyone without a scientific background to understand.Chasing Doctor Dolittle is written with clarity, persuasion, and singular authority. It is a wonderful, deeply insightful book.”-- Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie About Love

“Con Slobodchikoff has been studying the social behavior and language of prairie dogs for many years and and has shown clearly that these social, family-oriented rodents have one of the most complex communication systems among nonhuman animals who have been studied in detail. His popular writings call upon his vast research experience and they have an entertaining and easy-to-read style. Con is also able to simplify complicated ideas for non-scientists without losing their scientific validity. Chasing Doctor Dolittle will appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about the fascinating lives of many of the animals with whom we share our planet.” - Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, and The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons For Expanding Our Compassion Footprint

This is a revolutionary book. Con Slobodchikoff’s well-reasoned arguments that animals have language are a breath of fresh air.”—Jonathan Balcombe, author of Pleasurable Kingdom and Second Nature

“With this bold book, biologist Con Slobodchikoff strides into that hushed corner of science where animal communication is studied intensely but the word language is rarely whispered.  Just as Donald R. Griffin tried to shake us out of stereotyped thinking about animals and their consciousness, Slobodchikoff asks us to reconsider our definitions of language, what it consists of, and what it does.  Amazingly, given the scientific complexities of his topic, he has written an easily accessible book with anecdotes that will cause any dog or cat fancier to take a long, speculative look at the animals in the house.”--Holly Menino, author of Calls Beyond Our Hearing

Reviews from Goodreads



  • CON SLOBODCHIKOFF is a professor of biology at Northern Arizona University and director of the Animal Language Institute.



Available Formats and Book Details

Chasing Doctor Dolittle

Learning the Language of Animals



St. Martin's Press