Do you ever wish your dog could talk? I regularly do to be honest. But until that special collar from the movie UP is miraculously invented and made widely available, dog and pet owners will just have to survive without knowing exactly what our animals would sound like with words.
While our pets can’t talk to us using words, they do regularly speak in their own way. If we pay attention enough, we can learn to interpret their behaviors to better understand what they’re trying to say. Over the years, scientists have learned about many different ways in which animals communicate with each other and us and while there will always be room for improvement, learning about these communications can help us better understand our pets and improve our relationship to them.
Dogs [part 1]
It can be easy to know what dogs are thinking in some situations, as there are many different ways in which dogs try to communicate with us. Some ways are subtle while others are more obvious. My family’s first dog, for example, used to get so excited whenever we said the word ‘walk’, regardless of its context, and I’m sure she wasn’t not the only one to do this.
Barking and whining are probably the most effective and well known ways in which dogs try to communicate with us and with other dogs. Loud barks can be a little terrifying, especially from large dogs, but there are so many reasons why they might be barking at you, other dogs, and/or nothing at all. They could be barking as a warning or to alert you when a person is at the door or passing by or if they’re feeling excited, anxious, or even bored. A dog’s bark might even sound different based on why they’re barking.
While there are many breeds that have been bred to bark at different situations, there are times in which it can be a bit much! There’s no way to make sure that a dog never barks again but there are ways in which to train your pup to stop excessively barking! Working with a trainer (or even trying on your own) can make a difference in just how much your dog might bark.
Pointing has been a big part of how people and dogs communicate with each other, as both humans and dogs have used it to show the other something. As a way to bring our attention to an object, many dogs will often make eye content with a person and then look at the object. They’ll often do this alternating gaze a couple times if we don’t get the message immediately. This behavior also seems to be a natural one in dogs!
Dogs are also great at looking at where we’re pointing, often doing as well as many toddlers! According to some studies, dogs have some understanding when we point at something and were able to find treats based on pointing gestures. However, our canine friends don’t look at our fingers but where our arms and larger protruding body parts are pointing. If, for example, your arm was pointing one direction and your finger was pointing in the opposite direction, dogs would follow your arm rather than your finger.
And those big puppy eyes? In a way, those are for us! One study published last year found that dogs tend to be more expressive in their faces when people were paying attention to them, even more so than when presented with food. This study was conducted by researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the team behind it believes that “ dogs are sensitive to human attention and tailor their expressions accordingly in an active attempt to communicate, hinting at more flexible cognitive processes at work” [Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine]. AKA: after centuries and generations of a close and often working relationship with people, dogs are prone to using facial expressions in an attempt to communicate with us!
These are just some of the many ways in which dogs communicate with us and there are many other ways in which they talk to one another. Eventually I’ll be sharing the other ways dogs communicate with us, how we think they communicate with each other, and how other animals communicate! Better understanding the diverse ways in which animals speak can bring us closer to them and can help us better coexist with the animals in this world.