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Is my dog talking to me?

By Dimosthenis Moumiadis and Koula Papadopoulou

Communication is important to all living organisms. Either they live on earth, or fly in the air , or live in the waters, they have developed communication patterns that enable them to promote their survival. They send information to members of their species or counterparts and also receive information from others. Members of the same species communicate their intentions towards other members, they give clear information about their own identity and information about the surrounding environment that is of a great value from a survival point of view. Information can be conveyed as visual, tactile, vocal and olfactory signals.

For us humans, things are more different when it comes to how we communicate our feelings, our needs and our emotions. We have developed a unique ability to “speak” and express all these and far more complex emotions. So if the question for many dog owners is “ Is my dog talking to me?” then the answer is Yes. Our dog is definitely talking to us in every possible way. He communicates his enthusiasm, his happiness, his anxiety, his displeasure, his anger, his fear. He is using his body posture, and his senses to explain to us what is wrong and what is confusing him.

But can we listen? So for us trainers the question is “Can you understand what your dog is telling you?” A misunderstanding in communication can easily lead our dog to fearful or even aggressive behaviours. A common example of this is our need to express our love towards our dog by holding him into our arms. An insecure dog may signal his displeasure by turning his head away, by performing a quick licking and maybe by even growling. Many owners may keep on doing it. By ignoring our dog and the way he “talks” to us we may face another more tense growl or even a bite, the relationship is then shattered. Calling our dog to “come” on a walk, may sometimes mean that the dog will not come right back to us, this may involve a cautious approach as there are other dogs present, the dog may start slowing down to become more friendly towards the other dogs and then when the situation is relaxed he will come to us. Many see this as disobedience and start yelling to their dog or even punish him. How unfair is this!!!! Dogs avoid conflicts, they need to relax the environment and solve the dispute. In that way they ensure their survival.

We have to learn how to observe the behaviours of our dogs and how to see these behaviours as a way of communication. Co existing with dogs and being able to exchange information with each other is not only important, in many cases it is seen as a magical ability, but if we listen then a whole new world opens up in front of our eyes.

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