In the blog entry, How Do Dogs Communicate? I talked about how dogs communicate with eachother. In this blog entry, I will be discussing how you can communicate with your dog. Hopefully, you will learn to better understand your furry friend by understanding how he/she views the way you communicate. The information contained in this entry assumes that your dog is well balanced and doesn’t have any major "issues" such as extreme aggression or fear.
So just how do dogs precieve us? How do they try to communicate with us? Do we acknowledge them?
Dogs are constantly watching us. They study our every move. Our dogs are studying our body language and reacting accordingly. Are you sad? Your dog knows. Are you happy? Your dog knows. Are you angry? Your dog knows.
Dogs are extremely preceptive to movement. So much so, that they know how we feel, and our intentions from across the yard. Have you ever accidently snook up on your dog in the yard at night when it’s totally dark? If so, then you know that at first, your dog probably barked at you as if you were an intruder. However, the moment you move.. your dog recognizes you. Dogs know who we are just by the way we move. Even if we were far away, in the dark, our dogs can recognize us by our movement. Every person moves differently, just like every person has a different finger print.
Dogs do not need us to speak to them to understand what we are saying. As a matter of fact, speaking to them helps us more than them. For humans, speaking out loud is a good way to get our thoughts together. Because if we hear our own thoughts out loud, we can remember them easier. The mind is a complex place, and it is easy to jumble up all of those thoughts that float around on our brain. For dogs, it is different. They can not say their thoughts aloud, so they act out their thoughts. This is what we refer to as impulsive. For example, say a dog smells something yummy in the trash, and this dog has not been taught to stay out of the trash. The dog will act out this thought by getting into the trash and eating the yummy object. So when we speak to our dogs, they don’t understand until they can pear the words with our body language, or until they associate the sound of the word(s) with an action or object. Dogs are very consistent creatures and understand consistency well, so if we are consistent with our actions, they will learn our words and actions faster. Some words that dogs will learn fastest are, Out or Outside, Sit, Go, Ok, Good, No, Hey, and of course their name. The reasoning of course is that these words are generally the most consistent words we use with our dogs.
Dogs see us as emotional creatures. Which, we are. Sometimes, this works against us however. If we do not seem stable to our dogs, wether we are or not, our dogs will not listen to us. A good example of this is my dog Mitsy. Mitsy is a very well mannered dog. I picture her as a victorian women with the big hat and gloves up to the elbows. She is very proper. When we get in to the car, she immediately gets in the back and sits, like a lady. She rarely growls, or chases in public, even though at home she has a very high prey drive. Mitsy helps me teach obedience classes at Pooches, and my students always compliment me on what a fine dog she is. However, I had to take Mitsy through an obedience class at the Tulsa Dog Training Club because Pooches wanted us trainers to have competion obedience titled dogs. At the end of the class, there was a test, similar to an obedience competition. Mitsy had been top of her class, of course.. she’s been helping me teach other her whole life. However, during the test the dogs had to do a down stay for three miniutes, and a sit stay for one miniute in a line. (Meaning the dogs were lined up about 2 feet apart doing the stays). Mitsy had aced this in class, at home, and even while teaching. She knows how to stay better than most dogs. But I was nervous, and a little shakey, because I wanted to pass because it was for work. Mitsy, the proper lady whom always listened, did not do the down stay for three miniutes. Halfway through the stay, she got up. Despite the fact that I had my hand up signaling her to stay. All because she read my body language, and it told her that I was not confident. In turn, that made her uneasy, and therefore, she got up and came to me.
If you find that your dog is not listening to you, and you know that he/she knows how to preform what you ask. Evaluate yourself. Are you calm, cool, and collected? Do you feel confident that the dog will do it? Does your dog feel safe with you? These are all great questions to ask yourself. Chances are that you will answer no to at least one of these questions.
Dogs also listen to the tone of our voice. High pitched voices will get a dog excited, while low pitched voices will probably make your dog cower, submit, or walk away. We see this in dogs when they interact with eachother as well. Warnings are often given by one dog to another with a low-pitched growl. Wolves will use lower pitched howls to warn off intruders called defensive howls. Higher pitched barking between dogs is used to demonstrate feelings of excitement or play. A play bark is a high pitched bark that can be kinda annoying. It is accompanied by what is called a play bow, which is were the dog lowers his front end in a bow with the hind quarters high in the air. So when we talk in higher pitches, it stimulates our dogs to play with us. We can also play bow by bending our knees and kind of squating quickly. Commands should never be given in a high-pitched voice, unless our method is to teach through play. Dogs learn most everything from play, but when we seriously need them to preform a task we should use a firm, calm, and commanding voice. Our body posture should be relaxed, but tall. The straighter we stand, the more confident we appear, and the more our dogs will take us seriously.
Often times dogs try to communicate with us in a way they think we will understand. Once they learn our body language, sounds, and style of communication, they will try to mimic us when communicating with us. This is probably one of the most fascinating things to me. Us communicating with the dogs is cool, but what really gets me excited is watching our dogs trying to communicate with us. When Oreo wants to go to the daycare with me, he will get his traveling leash (we have a million leashes hanging up). He knows exactly which leash to get. He pulls it down from the hook, and brings it to me. Then, he stands in front of me and stares with his ears pricked until I respond. When I say words, such as Go, or Out, his head twists from side to side as he is registering the pitch, tone, and word for recognition. Once he recognizes that I am asking him if he wants to "Go" to the daycare, he responds by jumping with excitement. This is his way of praising me for understanding what he is asking. Basically, he is saying "Yes Dad, that’s right! I wanna go play at the daycare today! Let’s GO!" After he praises me, I put on his leash and he stands in front of the door waiting to leave. This kind of thing is classic amongst dog owners. However, some people don’t recognize what their dogs are saying to them. They tell their dogs to stop, or quit doing what they are doing. These people accidentally tell their dogs not to communicate with them. When this happens, the dog becomes frustrated. Frustration leads to destruction, due to displacement. Displacement occurs when a dog, or person, has nervous or anxious energy that needs to be released. So it comes out, sometimes small (licking lips, licking paws, scratching), and sometimes big (tearing up the sofa, the bed, or even the walls). People may bounce their legs or feet, tap their fingers, or chew on a pencil or their nails.
We need to recognize when our dogs are trying to communicate with us. If your dog is scratching at the water or food bowl and then looking at you, then obviously he/she is thirsty or hungry. If your dog is trying to get your attention, try to figure out why. It can only benefit you. Also, when you communicate with your dog, remember to stay calm, cool, and collected. If the dog acts out, keep in mind that he/she may not be able to help it. Especially if he/she has a bunch of energy that is built up. If you get frustrated, it will only make things worse. Take a break and try again later if this happens. Don’t get mad at your dog. Remember, you chose to bring this creature into your home, and he/she doesn’t speak english. Keep a healthy line of communication open with your dog, and he/she will do the same with you. You will both be happy, and sane!
Oreo is crawling in my lap, pawing at my arms, and sitting on the keyboard. I’m pretty sure that means that I’ve been on the computer too long, and he want’s me to get off and play with him. I did just get home from work, and haven’t spent time with him yet, so I can understand his point of view. So, it’s time to get off, until the next entry. Ok, Oreo, I’m coming!
Don’t forget to vote for your favorite cute dog in the photo album!