Do you understand dog communication? Do you know how to “speak dog”?
Do you understand dog communication? Do you know how to "speak dog"? People are often way off base about what they think their dog is trying to "say". Misunderstanding a dog's message can be frustrating both to the owner and the pet and sometimes can result in bad outcomes. Humans tend to assume that their pets have the same emotions and feelings as they do and therefore interpret a dog's behavior accordingly. There is a word for it. Anthropomorphism is a noun defined as the act of giving human motivation, characteristics or behavior to animals or inanimate objects.
Human beings need to understand that dogs see and read the world much differently than we do. They have their own language and it is different from the way we communicate. Learning how to de-code the various canine communication methods can save a lot of frustration and will enhance your relationship with your canine companion.
They will be a lot happier too. Imagine if you were in a foreign land trying to speak to someone who does not understand your language. This reminds me of an old cartoon by Gary Larson about dogs titled "what we say" and "what they hear". The owner is berating the dog about their bad behavior and all the dog hears is "blah, blah, blah Ginger".
One mistake people make is to misread what the dog is saying into something completely different, basing their assumption on what they are feeling. Children, out of their love of animals and knowing how good a hug feels, might decide to run up and embrace a tail-wagging dog. For many canines, this is an invasion of space and an attempt at a show of dominance by the hugger; especially if the approach is frontal or they bend over and surround the dog with the hug.
Many children have been nipped or seriously injured following this urge because the dog will communicate their displeasure with a bite. Unfortunately, it is the dog that pays for this misunderstanding, sometimes with his life. The dog may be euthanized because it "suddenly" became aggressive. The proper "dog language" way to greet a dog in a non-confrontational way is to turn your body sideways, no eye-to-eye contact, and allow the dog to smell you.
It is not necessarily bad to hug a dog that is familiar with you. I hug my dogs all the time but I must admit that I have always felt that it is not their favorite thing but it sure does make me feel good. Dog behaviorists explain that the dog can feel the good feeling humans receive from hugging, and that energy radiating from the humans can be calming to the dog because he is enjoying the calm he feels coming from the person.
Tail wagging is another area for potential misinterpretation of dog speak. We assume that tail-wagging indicates a playful, happy dog. In fact, tail wags have many different meanings, depending on the position of the tail and the way it is wagging. One example is that a tail, held high and stiff while wagging in short movements indicates dominance and a warning, or threat, to back off.
Dog "speak" is a combination of complex body signals, postures and sounds that are used to communicate with humans, other dogs and animals. A future column will cover this in more detail. Two books on the topic that have been popular are;
How To Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication by Stanley Coren (Dec 11, 2012) and Dogspeak: How to Learn It, Speak it, and Use It to Have a Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Dog by Bash Dibra and Mary Ann Crenshaw(Sep 13, 2001).