How To Speak Dog

If your dog is one of those super-canines that lives in the kennel and only comes out to exercise or hunt, skip to another article. This one isn’t for you.

But if, like me, you spend a lot more time walking, talking and interacting with your canine companion than actually hunting, here’s a resource for you. It’s a nifty little book, less than 250 pages of plain English (minus charts and appendix) that could do for human/canine communications what the horse whisperer claimed to do for horses.

Dogs have been a part of my life for over 50 years. Hunting dogs, herding dogs, guard dogs and dog dogs, I’ve lived with a fair assortment. And, like any dog person, I’ve spent hours trying to communicate with my dogs and the dogs of others. What doesthatbark mean? What does that tail (or ear or lip or head) position mean? What does it mean when his shoulder ruff is up, but his rump ruff isn’t? What does it mean when they’re both up? How do I calm a canine stranger down without getting chewed to ravioli?

Understanding Dog Body Language
Like any dog owner, I’ve picked up a few things along the way: raised hackles mean trouble (but there’s a difference between the shoulder hackles and the rump hackles and what they mean); undercurled tail means a frightened dog — that one is really important since frightened dogs are more likely to bite than dogs that are asserting their dominance or territorial claims — and a dog standing by the door has things on his mind.

But what about the more subtle signals? Communications specialists will tell you that only a small fraction of human communication is verbal: much of what we tell each other is passed through more subtle signals. Body language, tone of voice, facial expression and eye contact all play a role in what we’re really saying. It’s that same way with dogs, only more so.

Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and life-long dog owner, has written a guide to dog communications that will help every dog owner, from experienced handler to first-time puppy raiser. Drawing on substantial research in animal behavior, evolutionary biology, and years of personal experience, Coren argues that the average dog can differentiate between 60 and 140 words. He points out that some dogs can even pick individual words out of sentences and act on those key words. The book is full of tips on how to get your dog to do more of what you want it to do, with less frustration for both dog and human.

“How to Speak Dog: mastering the art of dog-human communication,” is a book by Stanley Coren ISBN 0-684-86534-3.

What The Dog Is Saying
But for me, the best part of the book is the explanations, illustrations and charts that help explain what the dog is trying to say. A few evenings with Coren’s book and I have a much better understanding of what my yellow lab is telling me during our evening walks. Thanks to Coren, I know when my lab is feeling confident, and when he has smelled or heard something unusual, and how he feels about whatever is out there (pretty handy in my neck of the woods where cougars and bears share the turf).

When we meet another dog, I can tell whether he is feeling friendly, playful, aggressive or threatened. Better yet, now I can read the other dog’s intentions as well. Thanks to Coren, I have a much better idea whether we’re headed for a romp or a rumpus and what I can do about it.

Coren’s book is “How to Speak Dog, mastering the art of dog-human communications.” It isn’t a book on how to train a field trial champion or even an adequate hunting dog. This is a book about communication: how to say what you want to say so that the dog understands you, and how to understand what the dog is saying back. I picked it up on a whim and read it the first time in a couple of evenings by the fire. Then I read it again and started trying Coren’s methods on my dog and on dogs that I met. Now it is a reference in my library and I recommend it to every dog owner I know. This stuff works.

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