Tag Archives: communicating with dogs

No words needed

One of the big differences between humans and dogs is the meaning we give to words. Humans seem to have an agreement about what words mean, no matter what the circumstances. For example: ‘walking’ always means moving the legs to get somewhere. So when a human tells another human she had a nice walk, the other human understands what she means.

For dogs this is very different. We do not listen to the meaning of a word, for us it is the attached action or mood that counts. This means humans can use words in a different way when communicating with us. Take my friend Kiesja. She likes to do doggy dancing. When her humans says ‘strawberry’ she pivots. That is the way she learned it. Her human could have learned her to pivot on the word ‘turn’, but she thought it would be more fun to use another word. To Kiesja this is not important, because she reacts on the intention of her human. They trained this a thousand times, so the meaning of the word ‘strawberry’ is ‘pivot’ to her.

This knowledge about the difference in the use of words for humans and canines is important, because it explains a big misunderstanding. Humans seem to think that they can use words and we will understand what they mean, like other humans do. But that, as you can see by the example of Kiesja, is not true. We dogs connect a word (or a sound or a hand signal) to an action. When this is repeated, we will perform this action when the word is spoken. Like pivoting on the word ‘strawberry’. Or barking on the word ‘quiet!’. Because, you see: we don’t get the meaning of the word ‘quiet’, like humans do. When we bark and our human tells us again and again to be quiet while we bark, we will connect the word ‘quiet’ to barking. Get it?

I will give you another example. We have some new dogs on the block, a couple of golden retrievers. They aren’t too bad, but when they see another dog they start barking like mad and pull their leashes. Their human is not very strong, so he gets dragged over the street by his dogs. He is shouting ‘hey! hey!’ to his dogs when they are doing this. It is all very embarrassing, really.  My point is: these dogs probably think by now that ‘hey! hey!’ means ‘bark and drag me!’, because this happens all the time. I guess this human wants to make clear to his dogs that he does not like their behavior, that is why he is screaming. But his dogs obviously do not get his meaning. Mind you, I do not have a solution for his problem (why would I? It is not my problem), although I do think Nicoline, my personal trainer, will know what to do about it.

Nicoline and friends

Anyway, the point of my story (which needs a lot of words, sorry about that) is this: please know that humans and dogs understand words very differently. Once humans know this, they can start communicating with us in a different way. They can use fun words for actions they want us to perform. Or not use words at all, but sounds or hand signals. We react to those as well as to words. It gives humans a break, because they have to talk so much already, to other humans. With us they can be quiet, because we will understand them just as well. Or even better, because words tend to muddle intentions and energy. In the silence we can tune into each others energy and be together. No words needed.

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How to talk to dogs

Humans talk a lot. To each other and to us, dogs. But maybe you noticed that we dogs don’t talk to each other, at least not in the way humans do, with words and sentences. So the short version of the answer to the question ‘how to talk to dogs?’ is: you don’t.

We don’t actually mind when humans talk to us. We are polite enough to listen to all this blabla, no worries about that. M for instance talks a lot, to other humans and to me as well. I’m okay with that, it is the way she is and I respect that. But with humans and canines in general the trouble begins when humans seem to think that talking to us is the same thing as communicating with us. That is a big misunderstanding.

Let me give you an example. I was at the beach and a big labrador was happily rolling in a dead fish. His human did not like that and called him. When he finally came, she said to him (in a high pitched voice): “You naughty dog, I told you not to get yourself dirty. I thought we had agreed on that, don’t you remember?” I can tell you we all laughed very loud at this stupid human and the lab laughed with us. This human interacted with her dog as if it was a child and that is just not how it works. I don’t expect this works with human children either, but that’s another story.

Boss

Conclusion: talking to us is not the same as communicating with us. If you want to communicate with us, please take a look at how we dogs do it. We do not use words, we use energy. We pick up each others energy and know what the other needs. Like respect.

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Energy is our most important tool for communicating. Besides that we have all kind of subtle ways to tell each other what we want.

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And less subtle ways, too:

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But the most important tool is energy. Not only between dogs, but also in the human-canine interaction. We don’t need words, we feel what humans feel.  For instance: when a human is stressed, we sense it. Balanced dogs will try to calm this human, stressed dogs will get more stressed.

All this means two things concerning communication:

  1. You can’t fool us with words. We tune in into your energy, so we feel what you mean, despite the words you choose. You cannot lie to a dog.
  2. When you really want us to get your message, make sure your energy is in sync with what you tell us. When you tell us to be calm but you are stressed yourself, it won’t work.

So what about the lab who was rolling in the dead fish? Well, he and his human have an issue that is a bit bigger than just communicating in the right way, because the lab obviously has no respect for his human. I can’t blame him, I would feel the same towards a human who talks to me like I am a bad behaving child. There is something wrong in their relationship and they should work on that, by applying my magic formula of fun, companionship & love.

For the rest of the humans who do have a good relationship with their dog: if you want to communicate with us, be fair to your own feelings and energy and be fair to us. Be genuine, be balanced and only tell us to do things you find really important. Not out of some whim, because we will feel you are dishonest and we will not oblige. By the way: rolling in a dead fish is very high on our bucket list. So please do us a favor and let us enjoy that moment. You can always (oh I hate to say this) give us a bath afterwards.