Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What the Dog Hears

Do dogs understand us? Sometimes it seems like dogs fully and completely understand everything we are trying to communicate and at other times, it seems like they know nothing. The truth probably falls somewhere in between and we (as humans and owner) often completely misunderstand this. I find myself often talking to my dog Tucker. He is a wonderful listener, he never interupts and seems to give me his full attention. He gives me the whimsical looks, the tilted head (which I interpret as a question), and raised ears (which I define as the same as a raised eyebrow in a person). Nonetheless, my understanding is completely wrong. Tucker doesn't understand most all of my words (although I believe at this point he has a thorough understanding of "NO!" and "GET DOWN!" and "Want to go outside?"). The truth is dogs communicate with body language. They understand sucken shoulders, fast paced walks, tones of voice, and even increased heart rates and breathing. Now you may be saying, "My dog ignores me when I am stressed out, I thought you said he can understand that?" Well, just like humans, dogs can become accustomed to just about anything. If you yell at a dog all the time, it will become a normal part of their day. If you are stressed all the time, they won't bat an eye at that behavior because it has become normalized. If you are depressed all the time, they feel that is your normal state and therefore may show no interest in that behavior. Recent research shows that we can even diminish a dogs sense of smell if they are not required to use it (which is why last summer a rabbit was able to essentially sneak up on my dog and get about three feet from him without him noticing - ultimately scaring him to half to death).
So why do I share this? I am trying to speak for the dogs who have no one to speak for them. They do understand us, but not in the way we think they do. They don't understand words, they understand our actions (many times it is the most subtle or simple actions). The Dog Whisperer has based his entire training regiment on this philosophy with great success. That is why he says he doesn't train dogs, he trains people. What he means is that he is training them to "speak" the dog language. So next time you are having a conversation with your dog, remember they are "hearing" your body language, not your words. But who am I and what do I know, I could be completely wrong. When I get home I'll ask Tucker what he thinks.

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