By: Johnathan Ray Cunningham, Contributing author
Arf arf arf! Ruff ruff! Bark! Did you understand all that? Probably not, but your dog would if it could read.
Don’t worry, though. Since you can’t bark, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to communicate with your dog.
In truth, your dog’s favorite form of communication is through nonverbal cues and rewards. So, if you want to be able to talk to your dog, you should master these two systems.
And yes, your dog does love to bark and barking means something too, but we’ll look at that after the more essential forms of communication.
Learning nonverbal cues doesn’t mean you can’t speak to your dog. What it does mean is learning how to understand the nonverbal cues your dog uses with you.
For example, if your Shih Tzu wants to show he's relaxed around you or submissive, he will turn on his back and expose his belly.
Or, if he is uneasy about something, you may notice him pacing or cowering.
A dog’s eye contact is an important component of nonverbal communication.
Humans appreciate eye contact with one another, but dogs will actually avert their eyes from you as a sign of respect.
This does not mean every time your dog looks at you that he's being disrespectful. He may be trying to focus or be playful!
Pay attention to narrowed eyes or prolonged staring.
Narrowed eyes may suggest the dog is feeling aggressive. Prolonged staring can be a sign of dominance or a challenge.
You’ve probably seen your dog give this look whenever he's guarding a toy from you while playing with it!
My dog Leicester gives me a stare down like every time we play with his rope toy.
His challenges are no more than playing, but he loves to look me in the eyes and prop his paws on his toy to let me know who he thinks is boss!
Another nonverbal cue is your dog’s tail.
Reading your dog’s tail is a key factor in how to speak dog.
This is more complex than the common assumption that a dog is happy if he is wagging his tail.
For example, a tail that is wagging in its natural position -- a teacup handle position in Shih Tzu -- shows they are happy or content. But, raised and stiff tail wags can be a sign of aggression.
Learning to understand the difference in these tail wags is important to understanding your dog.
At some point or another, we have all admired somebody's smart dog. This dog listens and behaves well because of good communication from the owner. This owner has unlocked how to speak dog and can communicate exactly what they expect from their furry friend.
Communicating well with your dog as an owner means using reward to reinforce good behavior.
Reward a dog’s good behavior with attention, affection, and treats.
In fact, when your dog rolls on his belly, as mentioned before, it is a reward in their mind to receive a belly rub.
Leicester has been spoiled with this kind of reward reinforcement. We can hardly sit on the couch without him jumping onto it with us and rolling on his back!
When training your dog or trying to communicate something you want from him, walk it through what you expect and apply the reward after.
A dog's memories are very effective at retaining rewards, so associating certain actions with a reward cultivates good behavior.
The opposite of rewarding good behavior is punishing poor behavior.
Unfortunately, many people think that punishing a dog for misbehavior is effective. Instead, this results in repeated mistakes and a stressful relationship for both dog and owner.
Dogs’ memories do not process punishment well.
They can react in the moment and put on a look of guilt when they see you are mad about them tearing up the trash. But, when you are not around they will go back to doing it again because they find it rewarding, whereas they will not recall anger or punishment.
In short, if an owner does not reinforce a dog’s system of reward, the dog is bound to -- as we would call it -- misbehave in looking for reward somehow else.
Dogs love barking. Sometimes, a bit too much!
Despite what we may sometimes feel, a dog does not bark for no reason. A dog will bark in reaction to something or if he is trying to tell you something he feels is important.
You should learn the difference between types of barks so you can understand what your dog wants. Keep the following examples in mind for unlocking the language of bark and mastering how to speak dog:
Learning how to talk dog requires patience.
Associating commands with reward takes time, but your dog will learn. Understanding all of your dog’s nonverbal cues is a learning curve for owners but will lead to a more rich relationship with your dog.
We don’t call dogs man’s best friend for no reason.
With a little time and effort, you’ll find yourself talking dog with your best friend in no time!
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