How to Talk with Your Dog
Just Because Your Dog Can’t Actually Talk to You Doesn’t Mean That We Can’t Communicate with Them.
Here We Will Learn How to Talk with Your Dog.
Dogs have a complex language and in many ways, it is no less complex than our own.
The fact that our dogs can’t actually speak words should not be a reason for us not to learn how to effectively communicate with them.
The longer puppies stay with their mothers and siblings the better they get at recognizing and acting on all of the new information they receive in those initial, important first few weeks.
The puppyhood period of any dog, just like us humans, can have a huge bearing on the rest of the dog’s life as far as development and growth is concerned.
It is therefore crucial for good communication at these early stages and the conversations and words we use to our dogs are absolutely vital.
A good mother will be able to teach her new puppies all of the instinctive things she knows. She will also be able to discipline them when they need it too.
However, you will see in the dog world the corrective behavior between a mother and puppy is always no more than is needed.
The early interactions between mother, puppy, and siblings are the foundation of life lessons that they will need throughout their time with us.
In a healthy litter of puppies, by the time the dogs are ready to be rehomed at around 9 to 12 weeks, they should be well on their way to being fluent in the language of “dog” from all of the teachings they would have got from their mother.
This reason alone is why if you are ever thinking of getting a puppy, the first thing you have to ensure is that you are getting it from a reputable and professional breeder who knows all about the crucial stages of the puppies early life.
Puppy farms and unregistered Craigslist type sellers will have little knowledge of the early bonding process and if you get a dog from these kinds of people, then you could be in for a world of trouble.
An early puppies life with you can be extremely confusing for both parties.
Puppies are still developing their social and communication skills so it’s a steep learning curve for them and the behavior they exhibit can be confusing.
You often see pictures of new puppies being lifted up and cuddled by adoring dog parents or children, but if you look harder, often the puppy looks scared, uncomfortable or confused.
The actions that we do with a dog are alien and in the dog world, a mother or father never picks up their young and cuddles them in this way.
It can be a frightening thing to be picked up and squeezed for a tiny puppy so next time you feel the urge, just try to rethink it.
That is not to say that a dog can’t learn to enjoy cuddles. They really can. What I have found though is that when a dog WANTS to have human contact, they will COME TO YOU.
It’s a good tip to follow as trying to cuddle a sleeping dog or a dog that is wary is bad news!
What Do We Need To Know To Communicate Well With Our Dog?
Well, firstly, we need to know that their communication is clear to us. Dog’s don’t play games. it’s not in their nature.
They don’t bark at us for fun. It’s always a reason. It’s always to communicate something.
And they don’t pretend one communication when they really mean another either. Unlike humans!
As humans, we have to learn how we must communicate our replies to our dogs’ requests.
It’s a skill and takes time so don’t worry, it will come as long as you are always consistent and take the time to get to know and understand your dog.
Learning these skills will improve all aspects of your relationship, bonding, and life with your dog.
We need to know that there are three distinct “zones”.
They are often termed Green, Amber, and Red, just like Traffic Lights and this is a simple way for us to remember and understand the aspects of communication with our dogs.
Many of us will have an opinion about a barking, snarling or growling dog but we fail to look at why they are doing this and what was the antecedent, the event before, they started acting this way.
Dogs are generally a very chilled out species. They love peace and quiet and they love sleeping and they love walks, food, play and most of all, they love us…as long as we are good, decent and proper dog guardians.
And that is what we must strive to be through effective communication.
Constant stress, confrontation, and anxiety is very tiring for a dog and expensive in terms of energy terms and given the choice, our dogs would always prefer calm interactions in pretty much all aspects of their lives.
These types of behavior are recognized so easily that dogs often get a bad press for exhibiting them, but not nearly as much attention is paid to the vast majority of dogs who rarely show these kinds of behavior.
Things, like a dog licking their lips or turning their head away as another dog approaches, are invaluable in terms of maintaining clarity and making meetings more peaceful.
The main reason most of us miss these subtle nuances is that they are very brief and rarely last more than a second or two.
Sometimes when a dog pauses before meeting or greeting a dog it can appear that they are unfriendly or somewhat “standoffish”
This could not be further away from the truth.
A dog with a slow approach to a new dog and a turned head is actually being quite respectful and if you take the time to watch this next time you encounter a meeting, you will see it is exactly the way that calm and respectful dogs behave.
A dog that approaches a dog they don’t know in this way is conveying that they mean no harm and is also checking that the other dog he is moving towards is comfortable before any distance between them is decreased.
This is very good and clear dog etiquette and it occurs usually with us as humans quite ignorant to this social act.
Man dog owners are simply unaware of how our dogs communicate with each other, but we could learn an awful lot if we just observed them more.
The concept of “Calming Signals” was first aired by Turid Rugaas.
She observed dogs and discovered that they responded to each other in very specific ways and she identified over 60 different signals that dogs convey.
These signals have now become familiar with the world over and have contributed an enormous interest in dog communication by trainers, behaviorists, and dog owners alike.
It seems that dogs have a global language that they all understand!
She discovered that dogs left to their own devices and without any kind of demand put on them by situations or by us would predominantly stay in the “Green Zone”, as this is the most relaxed and peaceful state and the one that dogs always want to be in.
It is also the zone that dogs feel is free of any kind of attack by any other kind of predator.
Very few dogs want to be in a state where they inflict harm on others or themselves.
Generally, dogs in the Green Zone give each other the freedom to approach each other and because of this, they must always be allowed to take that few seconds of pause to assess the situation.
A dog’s choice would generally be to be calm and greet another similarly calm dog and this is is very much the way that we do from a young age.
Good introductions like these can form strong bonds and friendships between dogs.
They can get to know each other very well and you will see that dogs that know each other well won’t feel the need to have this cautious approach when they meet up again.
It’s just like us as humans really. When we get to know someone better we always become a lot more relaxed in their company, and this is what is happening here for our dogs.
It’s also incredibly important for our dogs to be sociable with other dogs. It’s good for them and increases their confidence and improves their mindset and wellbeing, in much the same way as it benefits us as humans.
We have to understand and learn about our dogs before we just think that they can just go off running up to any dog they meet or indeed encourage (sometimes forcefully) to meet other dogs on and off the lead as this can lead to many problems and quick escalations into aggressive behavior or fighting.
The groundwork needs to be done.
Learning about communication involves dog posture and if a dog who is already tense spots another dog rushing up to him will simply not have a relaxed attitude to it..and this is where the problems start.
The value of two-way communication must never be underestimated and it should always be left to our dogs to decide who they want to interact with and not us.
We as humans are simply not skilled enough to really understand the majority of situations that our dogs encounter, even though to listen to some people, they like us to think they know it all!
Humans often mess up their own friendships and relationships, so why do we think that we can sort everything out for our dogs?
Sometimes because of our attitudes toward dog communication, we can often miss completely our dog going from the calm and peaceful “Green Zone” into “Amber Zone” ( which includes hackles being raised, increased tension and lower grumbling) and the more vocal the interactions we observe between our dogs, the more we should be aware of possible conflict.
Dogs that resort to this kind of behavior, barking, lunging and biting are obviously anxious, but also importantly, they have developed this mechanism of dealing with the situation the best way they can and will completely ignore any kind of introductory steps in future as this behavior becomes normalized.
You hear from time to time owners say things like “Oh, he doesn’t really get on with other dogs” and “He is a bit grumpy around other dogs”
This is true in some aspects but nearly always because of the failure of the dogs’ owner as they have not helped the dog to overcome this aspect of their anxious life.
Big And Noisy Interactions
These are usually designed to get the attention of other dogs and primarily they are to let other dogs know that they are unhappy with their approach and how threatened they are feeling.
A dog like this is signaling to the other dog to beware and not to approach, which makes sense, doesn’t it?
Dogs generally don’t want to hurt another dog as they understand that THEY could get injured too.
If you remember my article about how dogs don’t really see size difference as an issue, you will understand this better.
Our role as humans is to make sure we are protecting our dogs from situations where they could feel vulnerable, anxious and the need to defend themselves.
If the inevitable bad situation arises it is also vital that we never punish our dog as a result of their actions. All that happens if you try to punish a dog that is already in a heightened state of anxiety or in that “Red Zone” is that the behavior will escalate.
Punishing our dogs either by vocal or aggressive looking behaviors is absolutely the worst course of action we could ever take…and definitely the easiest way to get bitten.
Insisting that our dogs must “get on” with another dog is absolutely the wrong way to promote good relationships between dogs and also if you try to force a dog to go down this route, you are actually breaking your bond with your dog as they will start to see you as someone who makes them do something that really upsets them, and they will trust you less.
As owners, we must think more about how our dogs choose to interact with other dogs and they really do have their own ways, ways that work for them.
As we have outlined here before, dogs really do not enjoy stressful situations and they need us to understand them a lot better than we generally do.
- They don’t want to be barking all day and all of the night either.
- They don’t want to live in a home that has constant conflict.
- They don’t want worrying and stressful walks with an owner who doesn’t understand them or is nervous.
Because of our fixed and rigid preconceptions about what we think our dogs want and need we sometimes force them into a state where they are anxious and this is when negative issues start to manifest themselves in terms of your dogs’ wellbeing and behavior.
In a world where dogs are often blamed for biting and behaving in a way that we don’t like socially, we really only have ourselves to blame.
We need to change our attitude to how our dogs meet each other and it really is our responsibility to do so.
How Do We Become More Skilled In Learning Our Dogs Language?
Actually, it is relatively easy to do so!
We learn by watching our dogs and we can observe that many of our dogs’ behaviors when they meet another dog for the first time can be negative because of the situation they may be in.
Do not dismiss anything you observe and be open-minded and make mental notes.
Look for dogs actually slowing down as they spot each other.
Watch how they sniff the ground as they approach each other for the first time.
These skills are extremely diplomatic if we allow them to be.
Dipping of the head lowers posture and keeps their bodies in neutral and lowers their heart rate.
This is a very obvious sign of calming signals and an indicator to you that your dog in the Green Light Zone.
This kind of behavior is seen by other dogs in exactly this way and is most often reciprocated and this can lead to calm and proper introductions.
Dogs will then quietly and calmly approach each other
The dogs may then circle one another and this behavior can then move on to a brief bottom sniff and then they will move away as the calm introduction aspect is over.
This is really good communication and extremely good socialization.
It is becoming more and more common throughout the country that social dog walks are springing up for particular puppy and younger dog get-togethers.
Other breeds like my own Greyhound Wilson have benefited from going on organized Greyhound Days where walkers meet up and take out a bunch of dogs on a long and fun interacting walk and these kind of events are absolutely superb to help your dog get to know other dogs, build their confidence and social skills.
The dogs absolutely love this as they are hugely social creatures.
These kinds of events should always be practiced in good and calm and relaxed locations like rural forest areas and designated quieter routes and all of the dogs need to be on lead.
The dogs have to be and need to be on a lead when these events take place as they are then under the control of their leader (YOU!).
We are trying to always put our dog into positive situations that they will benefit from and be happy, calm and content.
You don’t want to be part of an off lead-free for all as this ultimately will not help your dog at all.
It is simply bad practice and can lead to all kinds of negative interactions and is something that can occur on a regular basis at dog parks where owners turn up, let the dog out of the trunk of the car and off he runs into a compound full of strange dogs for the first time.
Do this and you really are setting your dog up to fail.
Rough play quickly becomes accelerated into Red Zone like behavior and can have devastating results both to dog and owner.
Please avoid ever doing this.
A large pack of dogs meeting off lead is a very bad idea for many reasons, but try to imagine it like a teenager having a birthday party and a load of gatecrashers turn up uninvited and you can start to get an idea of the stress and anxiety level that unfamiliar dogs endure.
If you have ever been to a party and gatecrashers turn up, it often ends in a fight.
Do this in the world of dog and it will almost certainly end up in a bite….or much, much worse.
Dogs Give Puppies The Benefit Of The Doubt
I have said in the past that dogs are smart and they really are. And this next bit will make you see that even more.
When a puppy starts to investigate the brave new world they are now part of they are given a fairly easy ride by older, more mature dogs as these dogs understand that the puppy, is well..just a baby.
They don’t know any better and because of this an adult dog is nearly always kind to them and really cuts them a lot of slack.
An adult dog simply knows that puppy really doesn’t know what they are doing at this stage and they know that the whole socialization aspect of a puppies life thus far is one of trial and error.
That said, an adult dog will not put up with this for much more than 6 months or so as they also recognize that it’s about time the puppy “Grows Up” and starts behaving in a certain way.
An adult dog will have little to no problem “correcting” a puppy that oversteps the mark and it will be a swift and sharp shock to the puppy, but they will also learn from it and this will make them think “Oh, I mustn’t do that then!”
It is not the adult dog being aggressive here, this is how dogs learn and pass on the social skills to their young.
This kind of corrective behavior, if observed by us, must never be interfered with and you must certainly NEVER tell your adult dog off for doing it either.
This is Dog On Dog Training and it is vital that your puppy “gets it” and learns from it.
Baby like behavior by a puppy after the 6-month mark will not be tolerated in the same way by the same older dog as they will know that it’s about time the puppy had grown in terms of social skills.
Also, an adult dog would have been showing the puppy what to do if they lived together and you will find that if this is the case, the puppies learning curve is much quicker as they have a blueprint being shown to them.
So remembering that a puppy really only has around 6 months of puppy behavior before they need to grow up, is a very good yardstick to use as a timeline for how we need to be thinking about training and socializing our dogs.
Dogs can quickly normalize a certain kind of behavior be it good or bad, so it is important for us as owners to make sure they are getting plenty of opportunities to have a good and calm life.
The more of this kind of life they have the better it is for the dog and their wellbeing.
Having structure and good parameters is what it is all about and they can only get that from you through calm communications.
Observing and rewarding your dog when they are in calm green zones of behavior are what really will have a huge impact on your dogs life and as we learned from the previous example of an older dog correcting a younger puppy, you can see that in the world of dog there are rules for behavior and consequences when it is not observed.
All Kinds of Things That Your Dog Does Have Meaning.
Play bows, yawning, looking into the distance like they are daydreaming, having a scratch or a sniff of the floor ALL have meaning to a dog and it is important for us to try to understand them a lot more than we already do.
Similarly, we also have to act quickly by using diversion tactics if we see our dogs getting rapidly tense, showing a closed mouth or steely-eyed stare at another dog, these are warning signs for us and we NEED to react quickly in order to avoid probable conflict.
It is no good hoping it will go away, it won’t. Your dog is in the amber zone and hoping will lead your dog into the red zone…you have to react positively and redirect to the green zone and YOU are the only one who can do it.
To take one thing from this is that in order to be able to talk to your dog in a language he or she understands is a skill and it takes time to learn it.
You will find though, that your dog is a good teacher and they will always do the same things as long as you are consistent with them, then they will be equally the same also.