HOW DOGS COMMUNICATE
By Pete Eromenok
Picture yourself in a foreign country. You do not know the language. You’re walking down the street. The police grab you and shout at you, but you have no idea what they are saying. They finally let you go. So, you walk a few more yards and here they come again yelling and screaming and even getting a little physical! Now you’re really confused, because you have no idea what they want.
Living with a dog can be a similar experience. If you don’t speak a language that they can understand, no one is content. Communicating in terms they can understand makes life much easier. Sending mixed signals causes confusion and disobedience. Sometimes your love and good intentions are misunderstood and are interpreted in a completely different way than you intended. For example: your dog constantly jumps on you. You reprove him by pushing him away, but he continues to jump on you. Most likely there is a communication problem. Your dog may take this as play, and since you’re touching your dog, he may find this pleasing.
Dogs use scent, vocal tones, positive and negative touch and postures to communicate.
Dogs communicate with different pitches of sound. Often when a dog wants to play, he will use a high pitched bark. A high-pitched tone in a person’s voice can mean the same thing to the dog, and can be used to bring a dog’s attitude up when training. Your dog notices inflections in your voice. If the dog thinks you are pleading, it can be counterproductive to the dogs training.
A relaxed or bored dog will use a medium tone and the intervals between barks will be spaced out. For the most part, commands should be given in a clear, distinct, medium tone of voice.
When a dog barks low, it is a warning or a call to alert. As the barking accelerates the dog shows more excitement or agitation. A lower your tone of voice can be used when communicating with your dog, however yelling and screaming at your dog only instills fear, which is always counterproductive! The dog only learns that you are out of control, or that he will be punished.
Along with tones go postures. Every time a dog changes his posture, he has also changed his thought. For example a dog wagging his tail with his mouth slightly open is a happy, relaxed dog. A dog that lowers his front end- keeping his rear end raised, is encouraging play. This posture is often accompanied by a higher-pitched bark. It is often called a play bow.
When a dog displays submissive posture it will try to make itself appear smaller. Sometimes with this posture he will show all of his teeth. (This is called a submissive grin. Some call it smiling.) The dog may also lay his ears back, roll on his back or on its side exposing its genitals, tuck its tail and even urinate. (Submissive urination). When a dog exhibits this posture it is trying to appear non-threatening. He may welcome his master home in this fashion. To help curb the urinating when you first walk through the door after a hard day at work, try ignoring him and resist making eye contact with him for five minutes or so. Most people find this hard to do and will give in to the pleading dog. Many dogs outgrow this when they mature. The worse thing you can do is yell at your dog because this is not his fault and yelling will make it worse.
Dominant dogs will use postures to appear larger than they are. Ears erect, a good hearty stare, wagging the tip of an erect tail. They may place themselves over the top of another dog or a person. Many of these dogs will cut off, or block or bump into other dogs or people. These postures are often exhibited in play and/or confrontation. These are just a few of many postures that dogs exhibit.
We can use postures when training a dog to comply with a command. For instance, if you bend over and scoot backwards, you can entice a young dog to come to you. If you choose to walk towards the dog to catch him, he will push away. Most dogs think it is a game and will stay just far enough away that you can’t catch him. (Actually you probably taught him to do so buy using tones and postures incorrectly). So, try moving in the opposite direction, bending over and clapping your hands. Don’t look like you are trying to catch him; he will read that in you.
Dogs read your body language like a book. Many people have said that their dog knows when he has done wrong.
If you came home from work one day and found a “present” in the middle of the living room floor, there would be some changes in your body language. Your mouth would drop open. You’d say “Rover, what have you done?” Rover would slink away. The pet owner then assumes that the dog knows the error of his ways. The reality is that the dog recognized the expression on your face, your posture and the tone of voice you used, and he has associated these responses. However the dog may still defecate again and again in the living room. What you do, and when you do it, will leave a lasting impression on the dog. Dogs associate events while in the act or a few seconds later.
How and when you speak, touch and move [posturing] around your dog can be a powerful tool in building a healthy relationship with him.