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.
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.