By Cheryl Silver [Email address: csilver2 #AT# - replace #AT# with @ ] , (512) 454-7219 [Email address: csilver2 #AT# - replace #AT# with @ ]

How big is your dog’s vocabulary? The more you recognize and understand your
dog’s communications, the better for him and for you.

Dogs use complex communication to avoid physical conflict
and much of that communication is manifested in body language–it may be accompanied by vocalizations. Sadly, I have seen people scold their dogs
for communicating and I have seen people attempt to communicate with their dog
in ways that will undoubtedly make the dog think that their person is a bit on
the demented side….sigh.

This is a huge topic, so I will just touch on a few

Avoiding physical conflict: If a dog is unhappy with another dog (or a person), many will try to
just leave the scene. If that is
impossible (the dog is tied, leashed, or cornered) the dog may avert his gaze
to try to disengage. If that fails, the
dog may give a low growl (saying, “I am telling you, I don’t like what you are
doing—stop!”). The dog may then move
on to curling his lip and even exposing his teeth (“You aren’t listening to
me—cut it out—I am serious.”). Early on
in this “commentary” your dog may bristle up his hair. He may even snap in the air. If all else fails and the annoying creature
persists, the dog may actually nip/bite. Note, this dog has tried repeatedly to communicate that he is not a
happy camper. If the annoying creature
is a dog, move away at the first sign of displeasure. Your dog will appreciate it. If the annoying creature is a child, move
away even more quickly and ensure that the child’s parent is made aware that
they need to supervise their child. It
is never appropriate for a child to be allowed to hit or otherwise mishandle a

Do not scold your dog for expressing his feelings when he
snarls or growls. He is trying to get
things under control without a physical encounter. It is your job to respond promptly and

When pups are being little pests with adult dogs, the adult
dog will go through much of what I have described and even mouth the pup. The pup may squeal like crazy but that is
his way of saying “uncle, uncle.” The
pup will have no injuries, but it will have learned about proper behavior.

Child risks getting bitten: Dogs perceive a direct stare as being a challenge and reaching over the
dog’s back can also be perceived as a threat by the dog. This is essentially what is happening when a
child runs up to a dog, looks it right in the face and reaches around his neck
to hug him. Many dogs, especially dogs
who don’t know the child, will find this to be unacceptable behavior and may
snap at the child.

NOTE: Keep children
from rushing up to and hugging dogs. Teach your child to scratch the dog under the chin rather that pat it on
the head. Of course, get the permission
of the owner before letting your child approach.

Odd people behavior: Surely dogs must think people are out of their minds when the person
sticks the dog’s nose in urine or feces in the misguided belief that this will
teach the dog something constructive. The “alpha roll” – rolling your dog forcefully onto his back to teach
him who is in charge—is an action that many people have used because of
information provided in a very popular book, “The Monks of Skete,” a dog
training book. Thankfully, in their
newer book, the group has dis-avowed this misinterpreted action and they no
longer recommend it. Sadly, many people
have been bitten as they tried this move; most likely because their dogs
thought their person was frighteningly mad!

Positive methods can help us achieve our goals and enhance
our relationship and communication with our dogs. Give me a call anytime at 454-7219; there is
never any charge for my assistance.