Communication is a Two Way Street

Posted by on Dec 10, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Communication is a Two Way Street

People often wonder “If only dogs could talk.” I’m pretty sure dogs think the canine equivalent of “If only humans would listen!”

The other day I had a conversation with a woman at the store she worked at in Denver. Somehow (!) the topic moved on to dogs (Go figure! Not that I am dog obsessed or anything.) She started telling me about her dog, a sweet young girl who was going in for knee surgery the next morning. She was wondering aloud how on earth she was going to get her 3 year old Lab mix to be “calm and quiet” for the next couple of months, as the vet advised her. In order for the dog to heal, she could not even go on walks for a while, let alone run and play ball, or wrestle with her doggie best friend that lives across the street. I sympathized with her, secretly exhaling a sigh of relief that I didn’t have that monumental task ahead of me!

We chatted for a few more minutes, I gave her a few suggestions. It was an odd conversation, in that she rarely responded to what I was saying. I wondered if she even heard me. She kept going on about how stressed out she was about it and how she doesn’t know what to do. I caught myself becoming exasperated, and decided to just listen. She was clearly upset about her dog and was simply “not present” with me. I felt kind of invisible, but knew it wasn’t personal, it was just where she was at.

The one sided conversation made me think about how we often interact with our dogs. The reality is, dogs are constantly trying to communicate with us. They speak with body language, a language we can understand if only we pay attention. A slight turn of the head, licking the lips, yawning, looking away, and walking slowly are examples of some of the signals dogs use to communicate with each other, and with us. When I think about how exasperating it was for me to try to talk to that woman and not be heard, I imagine that is only the tip of the iceberg of what dogs probably feel on a daily basis.

I focus a lot on human-dog communication when I work with people and their dogs. As with any relationship, clear, 2-way communication is critical. One of the things I love most about what I do is witnessing the moments when people suddenly start to see – really see – their dogs. When they are able to put aside their predispositions, assumptions, and attempts at explaining and justifying their dogs’ behavior, and just be present with their dog. Then another wonderful thing starts to happen—the dogs start looking at their humans differently. Maybe this is just me (clearly I am making my own unabashed anthropomorphic projection here!), but I always imagine dogs looking back at the people that suddenly start responding appropriately to their body language and thinking, “Wait…You can see me??? Finally!”

No matter how wonderful your relationship with your dog has been to this point, having these conversations through body language will bring you to a whole new level of closeness, and of appreciation for each other. Beyond that, you will be able to see many problems before they occur, because you will see the early signs, when your dog is saying, “Ahem, I could use a little help here!” If you step in at this early stage, problems (lunging, biting, etc.) can generally be avoided.

One of my favorite sites for learning how to interpret dog body language is also a dog bite prevention site, geared mostly to kids but worthwhile for adults too. Check out: www.doggonesafe.com. As you navigate around the site, there are photos, videos, even quizzes and games to help you learn to “speak dog.”