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Fascinating Insight into Your Dog’s Many Ways to Communicate…

dog's ways to communicateA group of researchers in Budapest studied how dogs respond to specific recorded growls.

The researchers recorded a series of play growls, threatening growls and the growls dogs emit when they are guarding their food.

The experiment involved putting a big, meaty bone in a room along with a recorder set to play the three different types of growls.

Then one by one, dogs were brought into the room with the bone and allowed free access to it. In each 90 second experiment, as a dog approached the bone, he heard either a recorded play growl, threatening growl, or food guarding growl.

Amazingly, neither the play nor threatening growls deterred most of the dogs from partaking of the bone! Only the food guarding growl kept the majority of dogs from grabbing it up.

Eleven of 12 dogs backed away from the bone immediately upon hearing the food guarding growl, and only seven of the 12 returned to it within 90 seconds.

Four out of 12 dogs who heard the play growl backed off the bone, as did only two out of 12 who heard the threatening growl. And only one dog in each of these groups continued to stay away from the bone for the duration of the experiment.

The study suggests food guarding is the most universally understood communication among dogs.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

Most dog owners are fascinated by what makes their canine companion tick.

There are moments when you swear your dog is human based on a look he gives you or that way he has of sensing your mood.

And then there are those times when you're reminded your pup is, indeed, another species altogether. Like when he greets another dog by smelling his backside – or when he proudly presents you with a dead bird or rodent he's just discovered in the yard.

It's difficult enough sometimes to understand what your pup is trying to tell you. Dog-to-dog communication can be even tougher to figure out.

Dogs Constantly Communicate

Did you know:

  • If your dog's ears are up, his tail is stiff and he's staring at another dog, he's conveying dominance – or at least he's hoping to?
  • A dog that looks away from another dog and lowers her body to the ground is showing submission?
  • If your dog is fearful around other dogs – and exhibits unpredictable behavior as a result of his fear – you can help him cope by stepping into a leadership role when he shows anxious or erratic behavior around other dogs?
  • Smell is another form of communication among dogs? All kinds of information is transmitted -- most of it a mystery to humans -- as they purposefully sniff each other.
  • If a dog isn't properly socialized with other dogs during the critical time period of three to six weeks of age, they may not learn appropriate canine communication or pack behavior?

What Your Dog Means When He Barks

Just as with growling, dogs use different barks for different occasions:

Hello Barking. If your dog shows excitement when he encounters other people or dogs, his body is relaxed and he's wagging his tail, the barking he does at those times is his way of being neighborly.

Distress Barking. If your dog barks at what seems like everything – every movement or every noise he's not expecting – he's distress barking. His body is probably held stiffly during this activity and he may jump forward a bit with each bark.

Territorial Barking. Your pup considers your home, yard, car, his walk route and other places he spends a lot of time, his territory. If your dog barks continuously when a person or another animal approaches his domain, he's communicating that a stranger is invading his turf.

Look at Me Barking. Some dogs bark simply for attention – from you or another animal. Your dog might also bark in the hopes of getting food, a treat or some playtime. The more you reward the behavior by giving him what seeks, the more likely he'll be to continue to bark for attention.

Communal Barking. If your dog answers when he hears other dogs barking, it's a social thing. He hears the barking of nearby dogs, or even dogs at some distance, and he responds in kind. This type of social barking is often heard at animal shelters and boarding facilities.

Obsessive Barking. If your dog barks repetitively, perhaps while performing a repetitive movement like running back and forth along the fence in your yard, he's demonstrating a bit of an obsession. You might want to try to find a better outlet for his energy – like a walk or a game of fetch.

Let Me Outta Here Barking. If your dog is behind your fence and another dog passes by within view, your pup might bark excessively to signal his frustration that he can't greet his buddy out there on the sidewalk. This type of barking is usually seen in dogs that are confined or tied up to restrict their movement.

Does Your Dog Need Her Own Friends?

Some dogs enjoy the company of other dogs, and some just aren't interested. And your dog's preference for other canines can change as she ages.

Playful puppies and young dogs that have been well-socialized will usually enjoy romps with other dogs. But you may notice as your outgoing dog matures that she's more interested in hanging out with you and other members of her human family than with other dogs.

If you're not sure whether your pup wants a canine playmate, watch her body language when you take her on walks.

If she's interested in interacting with other dogs, you'll notice some or all of the following behaviors:

  • High, happy whines or barks
  • Play bowing (she lowers her front end, keeping her rear in the air)
  • Circling and sniffing the other dog
  • Tail wagging
  • Bouncing around excitedly
  • Pawing at the other dog

If she's not interested, she might try to steer away from the other dog or hide behind you, stiffen her body, stare, bare her teeth, growl, or tremble.

One interaction with another dog probably won't give you all the information you need, since most dogs prefer certain playmates over others.

Give your dog several opportunities to meet up with other pups and observe her reaction in each circumstance. If overall she seems eager to get to know other dogs, it's a safe bet she could use some regular playtime with members of her own species.

If she seems disinterested or unfriendly when other dogs approach, she's probably content with her human companions.

Keep in mind if your pet doesn't get regular playtime and exercise with other dogs, you'll need to make sure she's receiving adequate physical activity with the help of her human pack.

Puppy Love

Do dogs fall in love with each other?

It depends on who you ask:

Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University says: "We don't know. I cannot prove it isn't so, but I cannot prove that it is. We cannot evaluate animal emotions."

"You have to call it a bonding thing," according to Dr. Patricia O'Handley, a veterinarian at the small animal clinic at Michigan State University. "It's companionship, or dependency, rather than an emotional attraction that lies at the root of these pairings."

But according to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, "I'm tempted to say (pets) can fall in love. Romantic love is a stretch of the imagination for dogs and cats, but can they be friends with each other? Yes."

I'm not convinced dogs experience the feeling of being "in love." But I've certainly seen special friendships between pairs of dogs, similar to the bond many owners develop with their beloved canine companions.

If you're interested in learning more about the human bond with dogs, and about dog communication and behavior, I highly recommend a wonderful book by Patricia B. McConnell, The Other End of the Leash.

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