Communication with dogs begins as soon as they are born. This is how they start the process of socialization. We all communicate with our dogs and they communicate with us. We have learned to understand each other.
Dogs are social animals, so the ability to communicate is important. They learn at an early age to communicate with their pack or litter mates as well as with people. Although there are some similarities, in how dogs communicate with us versus how they communicate with each other, the main difference, is of course, language.
We all talk to our dogs all the time, probably without even realizing it. We start when we first bring them home, giving them encouragement and reassuring them. We use words to teach our dogs, and to correct unwanted behavior.
Dogs can actually learn many words. They recognize the word and what it is associated with. Hard consonant sounds are easiest for dogs to pick up, for example, SIT, OUT, STAY. Your dog will learn the words you use most.
While dogs can understand one word commands, most don’t understand full sentences. If you say “Go get your bone”, your dog will understand “Go” and “bone”. With a bit more work, you can teach a dog to understand hand signals. There are deaf dogs who are well trained using only sign language.
Dogs can also communicate through vocalization. As dog owners, we have learned to understand most of their sounds. Dogs can whimper, whine, bark, growl, moan and even grunt. They can use these different sounds to communicate different things.
All dogs have several different barks, depending on the situation. The bark to go out will not sound like the bark if there is a stranger in the yard. If your dog is left outside longer than he wants to be, he will let you know by whining at the door.
Our dogs also communicate with us with their eyes. Direct eye contact can be to get our attention, or a sign of dominance or challenge. Your dog’s eyes should show intelligence and interest.
He or she should look at you with bright eyes showing his devotion to you. Dogs are intelligent enough to use their eyes to direct us to something they want, such as their ball that went under the couch or the treat jar.
What helps our dogs communicate with us is the combination of words and body language. As dog owners, we tend to translate our dog’s body language the way we want to perceive it. In this aspect of communication, our dogs are the experts and we just try to follow along.
Some of the basics in doggy body language are easy to read, for example, the tail being up and wagging furiously. This is obviously a sign of happiness or excitement. The tail lowered and tucked under is a sign of submission or fear. In a submissive posture, the dog’s head will also be down and the dog won’t want to look you in the eyes.
Other examples of body language your dog may show include tense muscles, indicating the need for fight or flight. This is displayed when your dog is confronted by something he perceives to be a threat.
When your pooch puts his front paws and head down and his butt up, like a bow, this means he wants to play. Our dogs have ways to tell us they want to eat or go out. If you dog is scared or nervous, he will shake or drool. Considering we speak different languages, we have become pretty good at understanding our canine family members.