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Communicating With Your Dog

Ruff, ruff! We often wonder what this could mean, even going so far as making up what we imagine our dog is saying. Maybe, “feed me!” or “let’s take a walk! or SQUIRREL!” Sometimes, it can be hard to know exactly what your furry friend is thinking. But, by understanding your dog’s body language and individual communication cues, you can communicate more effectively with them.

Dogs communicate with many senses, including smells, sounds, and visual cues. Instead of relying on vocal cues like we do, canine communication is centered around body postures and olfactory (scent) cues. People are listeners, while dogs are watchers. We humans also differ from our furry friends in terms of what we communicate. People have developed complex languages around the world to relay specific messages and ideas. Dogs use their body posture to show emotional states, and may not always be conveying a specific intent or action. As much as we’d love to imagine so, communication between dogs and people doesn’t have a tangible “language”. The messages we send and receive with our dogs are more general and can be misinterpreted. It is important to remember to continue to try to communicate with our pets through touch, expressions and words. The more we do this the stronger the bond between animal and human can become. 

Just like humans, each dog may communicate in a slightly different way as a part of their personality. Some dogs can easily display some emotional states, like excitement, but have a hard time expressing fear. Each dog is different, so make sure to contact us here at Harmony Vet Center if you have concerns or questions about your dog’s behavior.

What Our Dogs Tell Us

Dogs can provide much information through their expressions. We have all seen a dog “smiling”, with their head tilted or with their ears flattened. These all have meaning. For example, a dog with eyes open and “smiling” is probably excited and or when the face is relaxed and the eyes are blinking, the dog is interested and open to more communication. On the other hand when a dog is tense and the ears are lowered, the feeling may be that of discomfort or stress. Other behaviors in this same vein could include yawning or licking the lips or nose. Dogs also have a wide variety of vocal cues. These can range from high pitched to deep and rumbling. Whining can show physical discomfort, excitement or stress. Similarly, barking can have multiple meanings. It can convey an invitation to play, happiness or distress. In both cases, it is important to pay attention to other things going on such as body posture and the social situation. From past blog posts we have several articles that can offer insight into things like tail wags, facial expressions and what cute behaviors really mean.  

How We Can Talk Back

Keeping in mind the modes that dogs use for communication, body language, scent and visual cues, here are some tips for communicating back to them.

  • When it comes to body language, it’s important that we are aware of our body language to convey intentions. For example, when greeting a dog, approach slowly and calmly with the body posture relaxed and open. Avoid making direct eye contact, since this can be perceived as a threat.
  • We know that dogs respond to vocal cues such as tone and some specific words. Use a friendly, calm tone to convey positive emotions and avoid harsh tones or yelling since these can be intimidating for a dog. Tone vs volume is an article that can explain a bit what our dogs hear when we speak to them.
  • Consistency is key. Dogs thrive on routine and consistency, so it’s important to use consistent body language and vocalizations when communicating with your dog. This will help the dog learn what you are trying to convey and feel more secure in their environment.
  • Dogs also do well with positive reinforcement such as praise and treats. That makes these powerful tools for communicating with your dog. Reward your dog for good behavior, and avoid punishing or scolding them, as this can create confusion and fear. Above all, be patient as both you and your dog are learning. 
  • Be sure to observe your dog’s body language. Dogs communicate so much through their own body language such as tail wagging, ear position, facial expression and posture. Learn to observe and interpret your dog’s body language to better understand their needs and emotions.

By using these techniques, you can establish a positive and effective mode of communication with your dog and along the way, strengthen the bond between you and your furry friend.