Dogs are an entirely different species to humans; a host of problems can arise when owners try to treat their pets like children so let’s speak dog language. In order to be responsible dog owners we need to be aware of these differences and appreciate how the world looks from their perspective. This article will help you understand their limitations compared with sophisticated human abilities to process thoughts, how dogs think and to virtually speak dog language.
Discover how dogs “talk” to each other, to other animals, to us and our children and how we can communicate with them using their language. It also explains how to earn your dogs trust and respect thereby developing a happy unique relationship which will provide the framework for a well-behaved pet.
How Dogs Think
Dogs are social animals, knowing how they think helps us to understand them and to have reasonable expectations of what they are capable of. Despite having many similar social patterns to our own, dogs are not small people in furry skin; their thought and reasoning capacity is far less developed than in humans`.
They appear to share many human emotions such as happiness, sadness, loneliness, resentment and fear. Scientists do not believe they can feel complex emotions such as hatred, guilt, remorse and shame. Despite their apparently guilty faces, research suggests they are reacting to their owner’s body language rather than actually experiencing more complex feelings. The great news here is that they don’t hold grudges, plot revenge or fake emotions which makes them so appealing in a human world filled with deception.
Whilst a dogs brain is similar to a human brain, it is relatively smaller and lacks that part of our brain which is responsible for reasoning and language; the neocortex. Dogs have a good memory but their capacity for reasoning is far less than that of a human. They are acutely aware of our body language, our moods, facial expressions and tone of voice but for most dogs it is extremely difficult to learn words. This is because their ancient ancestors developed brains to process information via the physical senses about the world around them in order to hunt successfully.
Therefore, with a much smaller capacity for thought and reasoning dogs see the world in an entirely different way to humans. With this knowledge we can have realistic expectations of our pets abilities and not expect too much when training them and getting them to cooperate.
Canine Senses; Smell and Sight
Our pets experience the world in a very different way to us, understanding their perceptions of the environment around them helps us to interpret their behaviour and to communicate in their language.
We live in a world of sight, dogs inhabit a world of scent, they smell the world and humans see it. Think of a person and their dog entering an unfamiliar room; the human will look around using their eyes to gather information whereas the dog will put his nose to the ground and sniff around to gather similar information.
Dogs can detect scent at a level humans can only imagine; sniffing a patch of grass will tell a dog how many other dogs live in that area, their age, state of health, how recently they passed by and their sexual status. Dogs can track other animals and people from the trail of dead skin cells the body sheds and the smell of disturbed vegetation. Dogs can detect drugs, explosive, cancer cells and food better than any technology
The colours a dog sees are limited to blue and yellow, they don’t see red or green. They will use their sense of smell to find a red ball on lush green grass as they won’t see it and they can’t distinguish texture and detail as well as humans. We can see better in daylight than dogs, they detect movement better than we do and because of a structure which reflects light back into their eye, dogs see better in the dark. This structure enhances their eyesight in low light levels and explains why a dogs eyes appear to glow in the dark when light hits them.
Perspective, Hearing and Taste
Due to their small height relative to humans dogs have a very different perspective; anyone who has worn a pair of shoes with heels of an inch or more will know how different the world appears. For puppies and small dogs humans must appear to be giants and with lands coming down from above it could seem threatening. In order to communicate effectively, or to ‘speak dog language”, we should consider how the world appears from their perspective.
Our pet dogs also have different powers of hearing and taste to us. Their hearing is much better developed; they can hear noise at a far greater distance from its source and they hear much higher frequencies of sound than we do. The dog whistle, which appears silent to us, emits a sound frequency beyond the range of our hearing ability. Dogs have very sensitive hearing which is why it is not uncommon for many to develop a phobia of loud noises such as fireworks.
As dogs stand on their paws they lack the delicate fingers and thumbs we take for granted, the manoeuvring of any object must be done with their mouth which helps explain why puppies bite and chew to discover the world around them. Humans have over four times as many taste buds in the mouth than dogs; a dogs taste buds are designed to favour meat and fat rather than the sweet, salty foodstuffs a humans taste buds are designed to favour.
Dog to Dog
Careful study of how dogs hold themselves along with their overall body language will reveal what they are saying.
Because they lack the brain structure to verbalise language they communicate using body posture and signals.
Whilst they do sometimes bark at one another, most communication between dogs is non vocal. Changes in their body position, often very small movement of the tail or ears, indicate moods and feelings.
The scent of another dog is an important source of information and whilst the thought of smelling rear ends may be unpleasant to us it tells our pets a great deal about their doggy friends.
Dog to Human
So, dogs communicate with each other using body signals and they try to do the same with us. Some signals have close human equivalents and are easy to recognize, others can be misinterpreted or are unclear to us. Yawning is a way to ease tension, dogs tend to yawn when worried or anxious whereas we associate yawning with tiredness.
A dog will continually express itself to us through body posture and facial expression, taking time to understand these expressions enables us to respond accordingly and build a fabulous relationship with our pet. As responsible owners we should be aware of our pets sensitivities, making an effort to learn to read their signals. In the human-dog relationship dogs are more vulnerable than we are as they have far less control over what happens to them.
Human to Dog
Dogs watch us rather than listen to us, they find it much easier to understand our signals and gestures than words. In training it is quicker to teach a dog to respond to a gesture than a spoken command. They observe us closely for any clues as to what might be about to happen and for this reason signals are more effective than words.
Dogs will eventually learn words if the words are repeated often enough but by this time they will have learned the accompanying gestures. A dog will not learn many words, use as few syllables as possible; for example say “bed” rather than “go and lay down”.
Comments and Feedback
In summing up it is fair to say that we should learn to communicate in “dog language” as opposed to learning to “speak dog language” as dogs communicate non-verbally.
If you have any comments or feedback please feel free to let me know.