As trainers,we  humans spend way to much time trying to make dogs listen to human instructions.  In human speech.  With complicated human intentions behind every word.  You’ll hear almost every dog-owner in existence do the “machine gun” impression when a dog doesn’t comply immediately. “Sit Spot…Sit!  No, Sit! Sit Sit  Sit!!!! Dumb Dog!  Sit!!!!”  (Hey! Finally a place where “Sit” doesn’t happen!!! But I digress)

Even some of us that train or handle dogs professionally will get caught up in the repeated command trap.  Like many english-speaking people, who believe that the whole planet speaks english just like us, many of us figure that our dog speaks english as well.  He’s just being contrary because…(Insert excuse here)

Now it is true that some dogs become familiar with some of our words.  Tests and experiments have proven that some dogs can identify objects by name, learn directional commands, as well as other simple instructions.  Some researchers postulate that certain dogs may possess the ability to understand over one hundred human words in various languages.  However, if you make up non-sense words for various actions, they will also learn and respond.  So it’s not our Language that they understand.  Rather, it is our Intent in the command.  That’s quite different.

On the other paw (hand, whichever), humans are capable of learning multiple languages and forms of communication with excellent retention.  This simple mathematics has taught me something quite profound.  Why am I struggling to teach my dog something he’s not really interested in?  He has zero need for human speech.  And we, as humans are eminently more capable of learning Dog-Speak.  Provided we apply ourselves and put in the effort.  The other problem we face as humans, is that we don’t listen very well.  In multiple ways…The biggest secret behind learning a foreign language is “Hearing it, and Listening to it.”  Becoming immersed in a language is necessary for learning it well.  An amazing re-wiring of the human brain synapsis takes place when you Listen to your chosen language being spoken, even without focusing on it.  The question then, is this:  Why don’t more people attempt to “speak” dog??

I think I’ve figured this conundrum out.  Humans tend to believe that because we are the top of the food chain, we need to bring everything to our level.  Everything else is below us.  Intellectually, we are above the dog.  Dogs are not humans in furry suits.  They will never rise above us in intelligence.  But does that mean they have nothing to “Say”?   The situation reminds me of how members of the Deaf Culture here in the United States were regarded not all that many years ago.  They were labeled as “retarded”, “misfit”, and much worse.  The reason being, is because people couldn’t communicate with them using spoken language.  And at the beginning, Sign or Gestural communication was frowned upon.  Or even derided by the medical community…While a triumphant story, Helen Keller’s life and situation were not a hallmark in good human nature.  The use of ASL was a mark that made people avoid the Deaf.  But as ASL became more accepted, first by the Deaf Community, medical people, and hearing family members, those users of ASL began to prosper.  Those of us that have learned and use ASL have found it to be a colorful and capable language.  I believe that “dog-speak”  is very similar today.  If we took the time to recognize the nuance and ability of it, we will open new doors to the human-canine connection.

Of course, the language of the dog is highly visual in nature.  Our powers of observation will be tested.  Our powers of observation will need to adapt and improve to grasp the language of the dog. Not only do most humans not listen well, many don’t observe well visually.  Ask any police officer that has 3 or 4 eyewitnesses to a traffic accident.  Count on 6 different viewpoints…

Your path to “Listening” to your dog, will necessarily include some reference material. (See the end of this post for links)  There are a few books out there that will help you with “What” to look for, and “When to Expect” certain body language, but the majority of the learning will be unique to YOU and YOUR DOG.  each individual dog will have his own “dialect”, which will be shared by others in his pack.

The real secret to learning your dogs language will involve being with the dog as much as possible.  Putting him into varied situations that will cause him to “Say” something to you…But this is NOT as difficult nor esoteric as you may think.  Do you know when your dog wants to go outside to relieve himself?  How?  Does he say, “Hey Dad, how about a bathroom break here?” in flawless english?  Does he send you a text or e-mail?  Of course not.  He may whine, he might bop your elbow with his snout, he may ring a bell near the door, he may sit quietly near the door.  But you WILL know what he wants!!! We learn these signals very quickly so that we avoid smelly accidents…Our dogs communicate with us %100 of the time we are together.  Most humans get  % 30 of it…on a good day.  My dogs have taught me their language thru many, many, long hours of effort.  Not to mention many misunderstandings on my part.  Some of what he communicates to me is outside of what may be in print.  Since we do scent-detection work, Hans has learned to “tell” me exactly what it is that he’s detecting.  The real problem was getting me to understand him.  We occasionally do “drug-possession” sweeps on work-places or construction sites for insurance companies.  When we enter a site, Hans is very clear about his nose.  If someone has the scent of marijuana on them, his long black nose will do an up and down motion like he’s conducting Beethovens 9th symphony for the local Philharmonic.  The scent of Crack-Cocaine produces a head-shake resembling the way a wet dog sprays after swimming.  Methamphetamine causes him to do what resembles a play-bow…I didn’t teach him any of these behaviors.  It’s something that came about organically, and when I finally recognized it, it has never failed.  Most handlers in Tracking/Trailing work recognize many indications of the communicating talents of their dog.  He will tell you when he’s lost a scent, found a scent, made contact with a separate but related scent.  You just need to learn to be observant!!!!!

Using various books that are available on dog-language, be aware that they are only a general guide.  Your dog may have his own dialect, his own way.  You will learn what these are as you work together.  But open yourself to the dogs language, and free yourself of trying to teach him yours. 

As encouragement to develop this skill, let me ask you some questions.  Do you recognize when your dog needs to go relieve himself?  Do you know when your dog is hungry, thirsty, hot, cold?  Do you recognize when your dog isn’t feeling well?  Can you tell if he’s going to throw up?  Do you recognize the early signals that someone may be approaching your house?    Chances are VERY good that you do!!!  These are communication between you!!!  YOU CAN LEARN HIS LANGUAGE!!!  It just requires your efforts in learning another language!!

The links below are a few of the books I’ve read and consulted on the matter of “Dog-Speak”    While I do not always agree 100% with all the conclusions or methods, they WILL give you a jump start…I’ve given each a 1 to 5 rating beside it, telling you my thoughts…NOT all of them are pure, “This means this,” books, but they will all make you think!!!     a Solid 4 out of 5.  Abrantes is an Operant conditioning guy, and tends toward a bias in that direction.  But worth it!    solid 3 out of 5.  Lots of photo’s, with some missteps in interpretation.   Very thorough and well thought out.  A 4 out of 5.   Simple, with much less info due only to the book being short.

ANY BOOK WRITTEN BY     SUZANNE  CLOTHIER.        The woman is a genius and by far the very best in the field today!!  Google her, check her out at Amazon, Go to her website!!!!   DO IT NOW!!!!!


© Robert W. Vaughan and German Shepherd Adventures {2010 to Current} Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert W. Vaughan and German Shepherd Adventures  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

  1. Rudy Tokarzewsky says:

    If this blog is written by one Robert (Bob) Walker (Old Homegrown) Vaughan originally from Harbor Springs Michigan and remembers such things as Rastus the Camel Boy, Pillage and Burn the Warrior Frog, Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes, The Blues Brothers and “borrowing” from the parents liquor cabinet and friends from the 70’s who lived in Gaylord….please respond. If not, which I doubt since this blog’s style is reminiscent of many past conversations and letters, (I have saved some pen/paper proof), feel free to respond anyway.

    P.S. “Rudy Tokarzewsky” is here being used for privacy issues, although the above paragraph gives more than enough memory stirring (and possibly long repressed) thoughts and mind’s eye images of embarrassing deeds.

  2. dragutin2 says:

    Reblogged this on Dog Training 4 Dummies.