Like us, dogs are social creatures, though they do not speak in the same way as we do, but they manage to communicate with other dog’s quite well without human intervention. Ever wonder how do they convey their intention to one another? And how could we speak their language?
While puppies grow up with their litter mates and mother, they will learn communication skills from them through playing with them. During puppies play, puppies will often bite one another too hard, and when this happens, the one who is bitten will squeal. And if the biter does not stop, the bite recipient will refuse to continue the play. Such play fighting will not only teach the puppies social skills, it will teach them some bite-inhibition skills as well. Unfortunately, most puppies we got from pet shops and breeders were separated from their littermates before reaching eight weeks old, which then run risks of not having sufficient exposure to this learning process and eventually cause them to exhibit certain behavioural problems. Therefore most of the time, in such situation we will have to assume the role of their “litter mates” or “mother”.
By understanding how dogs communicate, we would be able to effectively use clear communication to let our dogs know what we expect from them. The way we communicate with our dogs have to be in ways that your dogs instinctively understands, and one of the worse is through a constant barrage of verbal chatter.
Dogs communication is based on a system of common signals. Since dogs can’t talk, their “language” mainly comprised of a complex system of body language, vocalisation, physical touches and scent cues.
Physical touches: Dog’s sense of touch is one of the first senses that a dog develops when it is born. Dogs love to be physically close to their favourite people, often sitting or leaning against you, climbing onto your lap and resting their head on you. Such physical contact helps dogs to feel secure and part of their pack, as well as helping to share warmth, provide reassurance, and increase the bond between you. To a dog, the muzzle is like our hands, where it interacts with everything using this part of the body. Correction from a stern touch on the nose has been one of the most effective ways to train and get your dog to understand when they have done wrong. While the limbs and paws objective is to travel and move around, the muzzle is open to all and it is how they learn and understand the world. On the contrary, the least sensitive part of a dog is the place we pet our dog the most. The base of the neck is not very sensitive. Thus, for a better training session, you’ll need to ensure that the collar is higher up on the neck.
Vocalisation: Many owners feel that their dogs can understand human language. While it has been accepted by scientists and researchers that dogs do not possess the ability for complex abstract thoughts that are necessary to understand a language. However, dogs do understand well to parts of a language for example tone. To us, it may seem that our pets don’t have many different verbal patterns (howling, whining, barking, growling, snorting, crying). However in actual fact, these verbally communicated meanings are usually indicated by intensity, duration, tempo, and tone inflection. For the most common example, barking can mean a lot more such as excitement, fear, need for food/water and more. When communicating with your dogs, avoid excessive chatter, your canine friends may think that their human has a whining or growling problem. Your furry friends do not spend hours in long verbal conversations with each other.
Body language: While dogs do vocalise a lot, most of their communication with each other is done through their body language, which can be so subtle that even an experienced dog owner can miss cues from time to time. For example, many people believe that a wagging tail signifies a happy dog. If the tail is low and relaxed, it may be true, however if the tail is held high and is quickly switching back and forth, the dog is signalling agitation and a possible intention to attack. In addition, there are other cues such as whether the hackles are raised. All in all, dogs who intend to fight have a much stiffer body posture and their movements are much sharper and deliberate. To understand what your dog’s intention is, you will have to take into consideration the overall body language and posture of your furkid. The more time you spend with your pet socialising, going for walks, purposely paying attention to their body language, the better you will get.
Scent cues: Dogs have a hierarchy, and therefore, they need to establish ranks. The best way to gather information from a dog is to smell it, and that is why they sniff each other. Based on certain scents, they can tell the full profile about the dog, and hence, determine who the most dominant dog is. Usually, the most dominant dog will smell the subordinated dog first. It is their way to determine hierarchy without using violence. Dogs also use scents to greet each other and obtain vital information about the dog they are meeting Dogs have a sense of smell 50 times more powerful than ours as humans. While we are unable to detect what your dog smells, you’ll find your dog sniffing and snorting to search for all kinds of information about his/her environment. Sometimes they might like certain smell so much that they’ll roll themselves in. However, scent cues do not necessarily require the dog’s presence to get a message across. For instance, the scent of urination can be left behind to alert other dogs of their presence. That’s when you find dogs go around leg-lifting and marking with urine.
Some simple tips to follow when communicating and handling your dogs:
Just as you can learn a great deal from your dog’s body language, your dog reads a lot about you from your body language. Body language you can use to your advantage is:
- Do not bend over your dog. Squat next to them or stand straight. When you bend over the dog, you are putting them in a defensive position.
- When calling for your dog or training for recall, stand straight or squat with your arms outstretched. Stooping over the dog will cause him to avoid you.
- When petting a dog for the first time, touch them on the sides of their body and their chest. Never pat them on the top of the head.
- Avoid hugging your dog. No matter how much pleasure you get from hugs, your dog does not necessary enjoy it.