Humans and dogs have evolved alongside each other for thousands of years — and according to a study done by Washington State University — our relationships with each other have likewise evolved. Understanding dogs is something humans have been trying to perfect for a very long time, but miscommunications and crossed wires are inevitable because they don't speak the same language as us. While there aren’t any translator devices or apps we can use to properly communicate with our furry friends (yet), here are some ways to understand what our dogs are trying to tell us.
Pay Attention to their Gestures
Though dogs can communicate through barking, growling, and other sounds, looking at their body language can also tell you a lot about their current state. Is your dog’s tail wagging or tucked? Are their ears perked up or pinned down? When is a yawn out of fear or sleepiness? Context is important in reading them, so take note of their environment to see if they're reacting to stressors. Paying attention to your dog’s gestures is key to responding appropriately to their behaviors.
Understand Your Own Emotions
Dogs are very perceptive and can pick up, mimic, or even respond to their owner's emotions. The bond you share with your dog can foster an emotional contagion, which allows them to share your feelings, as noted by Scientific Reports. Reflecting on your emotions can give you an insight into why your dog is responding or behaving in a certain way; if you’re feeling happy or stressed, chances are your dog knows and feels the same.
Read Books About Dogs
If you’re feeling a little lost when it comes to communicating with your dog, books can be treasure troves of information to understand your pet. Reading insights from experts can give you a better footing with your pets. The Language of Dogs is a funny, insightful, and highly accessible primer on dogs. Author Justin Silver emphasizes how important — and easy — it is to truly understand your pet’s wants and needs by strengthening communication. On the other hand, John Bradshaw’s Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet provides a more scientific approach to understanding your role as a human and a dog owner, and what you can expect from the relationship. There are plenty of books to guide you throughout the learning process, so choose those which best fit you and your dog's needs.
Just as you're making an effort to understand your four-legged friend, they’re also doing their best to understand you too! When talking to your dog, you can use a higher tone of voice so that they’re more receptive to you; a deep, loud, or quiet voice might not work, as you won’t stand out from all the noise around you. Make sure your commands are clear too. Your dog may not fully understand what a "no" means when he or she is doing something wrong, so be conscious of the words you use and be more specific. Instead of just saying "no," you can try words like "leave it" or "wait" and find the best works for your dog!
Make Time to Have Fun With Them
Spending time with your dogs is one of the best ways to pick up on their personality, habits, and so much more. Though little bonding moments may seem like just a small part of your day, they mean everything to your dog. Take your mind off that deadline or turn off your notifications for a bit to cuddle on the couch with them instead. There’s no shame in having fun, and as we talked about in Life Through the Eyes of a Dog, sharing these moments with your pet can be meaningful for both of you. They’re called “man’s best friend” for a reason, after all.
About The Author Roanne Joseph is a San Francisco-based part-time and a full-time mom to her beloved poodle, Chewie. When she's not in front of her desk or at the dog park, she enjoys baking and rock climbing.