Understanding the Communication Process with Dogs

Narrated from: General Info

People generally make the mistake of believing that dogs can understand us when we talk to them. Even so, they are better at understanding us than we are at understanding them. There is minimal vocalization when dogs are communicating but there's a lot of body language such as posture, certain actions and facial expressions. Dog to dog, the communication is very understandable, but there's a lot of breakdown when you get to the dog to human communications.

Even though we don't speak the same language, it is possible for humans and dogs to understand each other. The difficulty is that while some people do understand a dog’s body language, there are many that don't. Growling, baring of teeth and fierce barking is hard to misinterpret but there are other, more subtle communications that often are misunderstood or overlooked.

Communication with other animals, such as humans, depends on a dog’s body movements and sounds. Everything from the movement and placement of the ears, eyes, tail and body as well as the different whines, growls, whimpers, barks and howling all communicate something different to another dog.

In comparison, humans use body language but to a much lesser degree. We are unable to wag tails or wiggle ears; however, we do have hands we can use to make a point or threat. It's the use of our hands that is significant in communicating with dogs. Hand signs are an integral part of dog training and when combined with direct eye contact and body movement, dogs can understand many different commands. There is a deaf dog that understands 45 words of American Sign Language.

When you call your dog's name and they come running to you, that is communicating. The different sounds you make and your body language are the most effective tools for conversing with your dog. Hold your arms out and your dog will understand if they come to you it will make you happy. Someone afraid of a dog will tense their body and the dog will get the instant message that they are afraid.

Your tone of voice is also important when you're speaking to dogs and is important when training. A loud or deep tone of voice will let an animal know you are annoyed while the high-pitched, baby talk type voice, will indicate that you are happy with the animal. Therefore, if you use the baby talk voice when correcting your pet for something they've done wrong, they will be confused because they will think that you are happy with their incorrect behaviour.

Dogs are also able to calm themselves and other dogs when stressed or overexcited. Learning some of the signals dogs use can help you better understand them and help your dog feel more safe and secure. Some of the signs that the dog is attempting to calm itself include: moving slowly with exaggerated movement or in an arc, sniffing, sitting or lying on the ground, a quick lick of the lips, blinking, looking or turning away and showing their side or back to another dog or person. When your dog is nervous, have people approach from the side to assist the dog in gaining confidence in that person.

The next time your dog is overexcited and you're telling them to calm down, take notice of whether they begin to yawn. Yawning enables the dog to reduce their own stress and it's an attempt to help others to become calm. In order to help control fear of non-threatening issues such as seeing a man in a hat or another animal approaching, you will see a fearful dog looking away and yawning in order to calm their fears. Learning a dog’s more common behaviours enables owners to understand and help their dog in many situations.

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