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Canine Communication and Body Language


A couple of years ago a Japanese electronics company came up with a Gizmo which they claimed could convert dogs barks, yips and whines into human language, thereby allowing us to understand "Doggie" speak for the first time. I was on a radio program recently, discussing the merits and usefulness of a new dog collar that was also a mobile phone. You could ring up and converse with your dog at any time and enjoy a nice cosy chat. You might as well text your pet for all the good phoning it would do; the mostly likely outcome of this idea would be to startle and frighten your pet.

In reality, real canine language is not just verbal; it is a rich visual language, where dogs are able to converse with each other irrespective of breed or nationality. A Collie from Wales can converse with an Akita from Japan and a Poodle living in France with a village dog in Ethiopia.

Dogs have a truly universal language that can be incredibly subtle and wide ranging. This marvellous language is one that we can also learn and understand, and through that ability communicate with our dogs far more effectively.

However this is a language that needs to be practiced for our dogs to be fluent. That is why early socialisation, puppy classes, and controlled play with other vaccinated dogs is so vitally important, especially in the critical periods from 7 to 16 weeks. As a behaviorist I get to treat many of these animals that are unable to give calming signals or are stunted in their ability to meet and greet because of the lack of early socialisation.

These are normally the ones that have fear and animosity towards other dogs and sometimes humans, culminating in the most common aggression of all "Fear". In many cases, they are unable to understand or signal their intentions; a classic example is boxers who are often attacked by other dogs. They have been bred with flattened features that are almost immobile, then we dock their tail to a tiny useless stub, making them unable to display some of the facial and tail signals that are so important in the greeting ritual.

I said earlier that we can learn this language, however some aspects of canine language are so complex, that we cannot even start to reproduce it with our puny two legs, small immobile ears, and lack of tail.

We are further hampered by the fact that we tend to think that our pets can understand complex thought patterns; we assume a dog's level of understanding is on a par with our own. This is known as "anthropomorphism", the dictionary definition is "The attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to nonhuman organisms or inanimate objects". It is a bit like saying that a vine climbed up the tree to getter a better view of the garden.

Dogs and Vocalisation

Dogs do bark and vocalise it is a part of their ability to converse, however this is only one factor in your dogs language repertoire, effectively when they bark they are saying "Heyyyyy". This can be happy, demanding or questioning. They also communicate verbally in other ways the excited Yip when you get the lead out, the bark they make when someone is at the door, quite different from the nervous bark when they hear something unusual.

Having said that true communication comes from the glance, the head position, the body posture, and a myriad of other signals constantly being passed back and forth. Dogs try to converse with us, but without understanding the subtly of the language we often miss most of what they are trying to convey. This can cause misunderstanding and confusion and may be one of the main reasons we get the behavioral problems we see today.

Greeting and Appeasing Signals

We humans are the direct descendants of primates including ape's chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas. That is not to denigrate our unique position on the evolutionary ladder, but our heritage is none the less, Primate. Dog's ancestry is intrinsically linked to the wolf, therefore Canids, which include wolves, coyotes, and jackals, a very different species with very different body language.

Where communication sometimes breaks down is when we greet other species, we tend approach then as we would humans, face on making full eye contact; we often hug, face to face, putting our faces close together. Just look at the common greeting of kissing both cheeks. To a dog, this is a threatening gesture and is deemed rude and inappropriate.

Have you ever seen dogs hug? In the main most of our pets suffer this indignity in silence but not always. This is one of the reasons people are bitten, especially young children under five, who tend to cuddle everything they can get their hands on. This coupled with the fact that you cannot negotiate with a child under five, you have more chance of negotiating with a terrorist. Ask any mother, this sadly makes the toddler one of the most frequent victims of dog bites.

If you stand over a dog and ruffle the top of its head this can also be perceived as threatening, imagine someone coming up to you and ruffling your hair every time you met, how would you feel?

Turid Rugaas (1) The Norwegian behaviorist and acknowledged expert on reading the intricate body language of our canine companion's states that dogs have a highly developed set of calming signals that act as diffusers of aggression and conflict. These signals include circling, lip licking, yawning, sniffing the ground, looking away, moving very slowly and deliberately, the body shake as if shedding water, distracted sniffing, and either sitting or lying down. These signals are aimed at other dogs but are also directed at us, who are also perceived loosely as pack members.

Just as we expect our pets to understand our every word, then dogs think we can interpret their signals, quite often these are the ones we miss when our dogs are stressed or worried. If you can spot them you can actually signal back calming gestures in response such as yawning, lip licking, moving slowly, and looking away. This helps to diffuse the situation and relax your pet.

If you think about it, these actions are the opposite of the aggressive stance that dogs take as a prequel to an attack or dogfight.

Aggression

As opposed to the calming signals, this body language is initially easier to read and includes ears pinned back flat against head, or sometimes pointed forward, hackles raised, hard stare, low head stance, stiff legged walk, lips skinned back, and tail either upright and quivering or straight out not wagging. There may be low growling or a snarl. Sometimes the dog gives a whale eye this is when the head is turned slightly away but the eyes showing the whites are turned towards you. This is often the look when the dog is guarding something like a bone. All these signals are a threat, the dog is saying stop what you are doing or there could be violence.

In Wolf packs these threat displays are a way of controlling the hierarchical structure, the breeding males and females will control their pack position by these overtly aggressive stance . Rarely does it turn into violence these animals cannot really afford to be injured or hurt in an all out fight, therefore threat displays normally suffice.

Because of our and sometimes other dogs, inability to read the postures and body language and give calming signals in return means that sometimes the threats can actually escalate into physical violence.

Timid Dogs: If you find that your dog is very fearful or timid round strangers get them to walk him on a lead with you, it calms and gives confidence to the stressed dog, make sure you are walking next to the dog at the same time

In conclusion, we need to watch and learn from our pets, if you write down the numerous signals your pet gives and in what context you will gradually build up an understanding of what he is saying to you.

You can then signal back appeasing signals in return turn your head away, yawn, or lick your lips at a fearful or aggressive dog and you may just diffuse the situation.

With practice, you should find yourself more able to communicate with your dog with a more enriched and sophisticated vocabulary. This will benefit both you and your dog and allow you to have a better understanding and more relaxed relationship with your pet.

Stan Rawlinson
© June 2005

Dog Behaviorist and Obedience Trainer, Stan Rawlinson has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with gundogs but also specialising in the behavioral and obedience side of training companion dogs. He now has a successful practice covering Greater London, Surrey, and Middlesex.

Stan is recommended by numerous Vets, Rescue Centres, and Charities and writes for numerous magazines including Dogs Monthly, Our Dogs and K9 Magazine he also serves as an expert on K9 Magazine's Animal Advisory Panel.

http://www.doglistener.co.uk enquiries@doglistener.co.uk 0208 979 2019


TODAYS NEWS BY OFFICEJAX FREE ADVERTISING AND AD EXCHANGE SOLUTIONSMORE PETS INFORMATION RESOURCES updated Mon. January / 21 / 2019

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Tips for protecting your pet in the cold temperatures heading to Louisville.


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How To Find A Pet-Friendly Retirement Community  Forbes

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KCAS Pets of the Week: Berry and Drake  WOODTV.com

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Keeping your pets warm during the coldest months  WBNG-TV

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Pet deaths in home fires spike in Tucson this year  KGUN

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Snowed in: Northeast Ohio pets will warm your heart as flakes continue to fly (gallery)  Cleveland 19 News

Parking bans, snow emergencies, winter storm warnings and...sleeping pets?


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LFACC: Bring your pets inside for winter storm  WKYT

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Man hurt, pets killed in Gwinnett County house fire  FOX 5 Atlanta

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Virginia nonprofit helping furloughed workers feed their pets  WSET

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Success! Pets of Domestic Violence Victims Are Now Legally Protected  Care2.com

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News Pets and pot: One pet owner's story after his dog ingested marijuana 8:43 AM  KGUN

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New pet store opens in Colorado Springs with an emphasis on nutrition  FOX21News.com

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These adorable pets need new homes!  WCVB Boston

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Available pets from the Humane Society of Lake County  Daily Commercial

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At what temperature should you bring your pets indoors?  WHIO

The Humane Society and American Veterinary Medical Association list steps you can take to keep your pets safe this winter.


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New program helps pets and owners in need  Carlsbad Current-Argus

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Pearland nonprofit offering free pet food to government workers during shutdown - KHOU.com
Pearland nonprofit offering free pet food to government workers during shutdown  KHOU.com

A local nonprofit organization is offering free pet food to government employees affected by the ongoing government shutdown.


Humane societys 7 tips to keep pets safe in cold weather - WHIO
Humane societys 7 tips to keep pets safe in cold weather  WHIO

With temperatures dropping and snow accumulating, the Humane Society of Greater Dayton wants to remind the public that if it's too cold for you to be outside ...


Gofundme Established For Family Who Lost Home, Pet In Fire - LEX18 Lexington KY News
Gofundme Established For Family Who Lost Home, Pet In Fire  LEX18 Lexington KY News

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Pets, owners flock to Madrid church for blessing of animals - Reuters
Pets, owners flock to Madrid church for blessing of animals  Reuters

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Think about pets before winter temperatures drop | Murphysboro - The Southern
Think about pets before winter temperatures drop | Murphysboro  The Southern

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Pet Talk - Pigs as pets - KBTX
Pet Talk - Pigs as pets  KBTX

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15 Pet Reunions That Will Melt Your Heart  Reader's Digest

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Two people, several pets killed in house fire - CBS19 News
Two people, several pets killed in house fire  CBS19 News

Firefighters say a man, a woman and three pets have died in a burning Virginia home.


How to keep your pets safe in the frigid temperatures - WVNS-TV
How to keep your pets safe in the frigid temperatures  WVNS-TV

While we always take care of ourselves and bundle up when stepping outside in the cold winter months, we must not forget about our pets. While many pets live ...


Pet of the Week: Tanner - South Bend Tribune
Pet of the Week: Tanner  South Bend Tribune

Tanner is available for adoption from South Bend Animal Care and Control.


Heartbreaking Photos of Pet Owners Saying Goodbye to Their Dying Pets - PetaPixel
Heartbreaking Photos of Pet Owners Saying Goodbye to Their Dying Pets  PetaPixel

Last Moments is a powerful photo series by Pulitzer Prize-nominated photographer Ross Taylor, who was invited to document the intimate last moments in a ...


Mobile Meals of Toledo helps clients in need feed their pets - 13abc Action News
Mobile Meals of Toledo helps clients in need feed their pets  13abc Action News

TOLEDO (WTVG) - Mobile Meals of Toledo provides hundreds of thousands of meals to homebound people in our community every year. After noticing that a lot ...


Opioid abusers using their pets to score drugs? - Health24
Opioid abusers using their pets to score drugs?  Health24

Veterinarians, prescribing large quantities of opioids to pets, are concerned that some owners might be using these medications to feed their own addictions.


Protecting your pets from the cold - WPSD Local 6
Protecting your pets from the cold  WPSD Local 6

We want to make sure you and your family are safe when the cold weather hits this weekend. That, of course, includes all members of your family, like your pets.


Don't forget the pets at resolutions time - Leigh Valley Magazine
Don't forget the pets at resolutions time  Leigh Valley Magazine

By Nancy Soares, VMD. It's that time of the calendar year when we vow to exercise, eat better & lead healthier lives. When making those promises, don't forget to ...


Fisher cat being blamed for death of pets in Brevard County - WESH 2 Orlando
Fisher cat being blamed for death of pets in Brevard County  WESH 2 Orlando

A fisher cat, an animal with long teeth and a sleek fur coat, is being blamed for the deaths of family pets in Brevard County. The traps are baited with fish, but ...


Keeping Pets Safe in Extreme Weather - KDLT News
Keeping Pets Safe in Extreme Weather  KDLT News

Miranda Paige,. Share This: Facebook · Google+ · Linkedin · Pinterest · Twitter. SIOUX FALLS, S.D.- When it gets colder out, it affects everyone including pets.


What Is Zooeyia? Science Confirms the Health Benefits of Owning a Pet - Inverse
What Is Zooeyia? Science Confirms the Health Benefits of Owning a Pet  Inverse

There is a growing global trend to consider pets as part of the family. In fact, millions of people around the world love their pets, enjoying their companionship, ...


Cold-weather safety tips to protect pets during winter in IL - Lexington Herald Leader
Cold-weather safety tips to protect pets during winter in IL  Lexington Herald Leader

The Humane Society of Missouri offered tips for keeping your pets warm and safe during winter cold weather conditions in Southern Illinois. Another storm is ...


How to keep your pets safe from an increased risk of infections amid persistent wet weather - AccuWeather.com
How to keep your pets safe from an increased risk of infections amid persistent wet weather  AccuWeather.com

Record-setting rainfall in 2018 and a wet start to 2019 have increased risk of infections in pets exposed to the elements.


Two pets perish as blaze destroys Summerfield mobile home - Villages-News
Two pets perish as blaze destroys Summerfield mobile home  Villages-News

Marion County firefighters were called to battle a blaze at a Summerfield mobile home on Friday afternoon that claimed the lives of two family pets. Flames were ...


Family, 7 pets escape from Jeannette house fire - Tribune-Review
Family, 7 pets escape from Jeannette house fire  Tribune-Review

A family of three and their seven pets were temporarily displaced when an electrical fire damaged their Jeannette home Wednesday evening. Robert Rundle ...


Bitterly cold temperatures, winter weather can cause problems for homeowners, pets - The Topeka Capital-Journal
Bitterly cold temperatures, winter weather can cause problems for homeowners, pets  The Topeka Capital-Journal

As snow began falling Friday evening, the Topeka area braced for bitter cold that was expected to pose a greater danger to people and animals.Although 3 to 5 ...


Warren offers stickers to alert firefighters to pets - The Macomb Daily
Warren offers stickers to alert firefighters to pets  The Macomb Daily

“Save my baby!” That frantic plea is sometimes heard by firefighters arriving at the scene of a burning home. However, first responders may not be immediately ...


Virtual pet game Neopets returns, but should it stay in the past? - The Guardian
Virtual pet game Neopets returns, but should it stay in the past?  The Guardian

Twenty years on, Neopets will soon be available as a mobile puzzle game – reminding many millennials of their awkward adolescence.


Asheville Humane Society using facial recognition to help find lost pets - WSPA.com
Asheville Humane Society using facial recognition to help find lost pets  WSPA.com

The Asheville Humane Society is now using facial recognition technology to help identify lost dogs and cats.


Animal experts urge the Valley to bring its pets inside this weekend - WAFF
Animal experts urge the Valley to bring its pets inside this weekend  WAFF

If you don't want to bring animals in the house, garages are a suitable shelter for the weekend.


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