6 surprising ways you can communicate with your canine companion
BY REBEKAH OLSEN
How often does your dog bark? An arrr-ruff may tell you that your lab is ready to play, or a yip-yip may signal that your terrier is lonely. And a continuous low-pitch barking can signal an alert to perceived danger.
If you've had your pup pal for a while, you may have learned how to understand your dog’s language. Without even realizing it, as soon as your pup speaks, you get up and refill the water bowl, or let him out the back door, or maybe take a peak out the window to see who’s lurking.
While you might have mastered the art of listening to your pet, however, have you learned to communicate back?
Learning how to communicate with your dog can strengthen the understanding and bond you have with your pet, not to mention eliminate some confusion when trying to explain the plot line of your favorite TV series. (For one last time, Baxter, it’s Game of Thrones, not Game of Bones!)
Here are just six of the ways we can better communicate with our canine companions. And, chances are, you may already be doing some of these without realizing it!
#1 Communicate with your eyes
A new study shows that dogs have learned to make eye contact with their guardians to show love. (It gives "puppy eyes" a whole new meaning, really!) For wolves, eye contact isn’t normally a bonding behavior. In fact, staring into a dog’s eyes indicates dominance and is considered an aggressive posture. However, domesticated dogs have forged such deep bonds with humans that they have learned the positive benefits of eye contact.
When you lovingly gaze (not outright stare) into your dog’s dreamy brown eyes, both you and your pet release a "love hormone" called Oxytocin, which reduces stress and encourages bonding--much like what happens between an infant and his mother during breastfeeding.
#2 Communicate with your smile
Recently, researchers have discovered that dogs can read our facial expressions. It’s unclear if dogs learned this behavior from conditioning—a dog associates petting with smiles, and frowns with punishment—or domestication, but because of the close connection you’ve developed with your pet, he is able to pick up on your expressions and respond to them.
In case you needed one more good reason to turn that frown upside down, try smiling at your dog to communicate that you’re happy with them.
#3 Communicate with your voice
Your dog may not be able to understand every word you say, but she is listening. There are five main distinguished tones of voice: cheerful, reassuring, disappointed, firm and caution. Each one has a different volume and pitch that your dog is able to detect to determine your feelings and meaning.
The correct tone of voice is just as important as the words you’re saying. According to research cited in this Smithsonian article, your pooch pal can tell whether you are happy, sad or angry based on your voice tone.
As such, it's best to use a calm, matter-of-fact tone of voice during obedience training, as a forceful or angry tone can make your dog tune out or become afraid. When you're ready to lavish praise for a job well done, raise your volume and pitch to express cheerfulness and that you are happy with your pup. Learn to consistently control your tone and voice so you can communicate effectively with your dog.
#4 Communicate with your smell
If your dog has an unusual hobby of collecting your socks (or, um, unmentionables) don’t get too upset. Collecting your dirty laundry is a comforting behavior that’s often driven by mild separation anxiety. Socks and other tight-fitting clothing absorb your scent more than a pair of jeans or t-shirt, making them the most desirable to dogs.
When you can’t comfort your dog through words, leave behind something that smells like you. If you aren’t a big fan of laundry-thievery, take an old pillowcase; sleep on it for a few days then give it to your pup for safe keeping. While you're away, it may help your pet to feel close to you and more relaxed.
#5 Communicate with your words
The average dog can learn up to 165 words! Consistency is key when it comes to teaching your dog to learn your language. If you call your dog's favorite stuffed squirrel ‘baby’ one day and ‘toy’ the next, your dog will have a hard time associated either word directly with the item.
Dogs best understand words when they’re associated to objects or actions, for example, ‘sit’ and ‘treat’ instead of an abstract concept like ‘You’re such a good boy’. Try only speaking in single words as it’s easier for your dog to follow along.
#6 Communicate with your hands
Your dog’s primary form of communication is body language, so when it comes to listening to you, it’s easier for them to read what you’re saying with your body instead of your words. Combining hand signals along with commands enhances nonverbal communication between you and your pet.
For example, holding out your hand, palm upwards can mean ‘sit’, while holding your hand out in a "stop" signal can mean 'stay'. Training your dog to respond both to the verbal and nonverbal command is not only fun, but can come in handy if you’re tied up on the phone and need your pup to simmer down! You can learn many hand signals through positive reinforcement training classes.
How do you communicate with your pet? SHARE with us on social media!