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How Your Dog See's It

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Ms. Millar has been an online writer for 10 years. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with anyone who can make use of it.

Dogs do not understand language.

Dogs do not understand language.

One Word Commands vs. Phrases

It is difficult for some people to believe that animals do not understand language. Regardless of how many years your dog has lived with you, they do not understand language.

Research has shown that the average dog can learn to understand up to 150 words, these include signals (the 150 is a combination of words and signals). What is called a super dog (Specific breed types) can learn up to 250. An interesting website has a short review of the research with a link to the paper.

Your dog can learn commands, and short phrases, made up of two or three words. Preferably one word commands work the best. Whole phrases and conversation cannot be understood by your dog.

To understand how your dog see's it I have compiled a couple of scenario's for your entertainment.

Try to step into the paws of the dog in each of the scenario's. You don't understand language save for a few words. What are you understanding as the dog in these scenario's. Does your owner give you clear signals of what he/she wants in your behavior or are you receiving confusing and mixed signals?

The following are two very different scenarios I observed or was involved in.

Scenario #1

Your name is Fido. Here we go...

Your owner opens the front door for whatever reason. You haven't seen or smelled the front yard in months! All those delicious odors come rushing through the door and the next thing you know, you run out the door to greet those wonderful smells! Before you know it you're at the neighbors house running amuck with all the wonderful smells delighting your doggy nose. Oh, what joy! Suddenly you hear, "Fido! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah! Blah, blah, blah, blah!"

You recognize the voice is the tone when you've pee'd on the carpet! What do you do?


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. In your perspective, as Fido, are you going to go to that person calling your name?
    • Yes I'm going to go to the person calling my name.
    • No way am I going to that person. They sound mad at me.

Answer Key

  1. No way am I going to that person. They sound mad at me.

Fido did not come when called. Calling a runaway dog in the same tone of voice you would for when he has pee'd on the carpet is not going to get your dog to come to you. Your dog can distinguish an angry tone from a happy tone.

In addition if you have ever been guilty of hitting your dog when it DID come to you, was counter productive. If you ever hit a dog when it has come to you, you are teaching the dog, if you come to me I will hit you. You are teaching the command, don't come to me. You may not see it that way, but that is exactly what you are communicating to your dog. Come to me, I hit you.

Scenario #2

Here you are Laslo the German Shepherd. Get your mindset into that of the dog Laslo:

Your in your driveway with a leash on, protecting your home. A stranger starts walking up your driveway. You run to the end of your chain barking viciously to warn this stranger you're on guard! Your owner takes hold of your collar and pulls you back a little so you stop barking, unsure if she wants you to continue barking or not. This is a mixed vague signal so you stay on high alert. She starts petting and rubbing your neck and ears, she must be pleased with you on high alert.
The stranger talks with your owner for some time, "Blah, blah, blah, Laslo, blah, blah."

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They finish talking and your owner walks you to a big rolling box the stranger brought over. Your owner gets in and has you follow her into the box. Now the stranger is getting into the box too! This gives you a feeling of being trapped.

Your owner keeps petting you, a lot, and speaking in her soft tones. She must be pleased with your protective, high alert, behavior, right?

The stranger starts putting a liquid on your fur, your owner is holding your collar tighter and she's petting you a lot. You can sense the tension your owner is feeling with the tight grip on your collar and fast stroking of your fur.

The stranger is putting more of that liquid on you, this is making you highly uncomfortable, you've never had this done to you before. Your owners tension plus you becoming more and more uncomfortable in this box with this stranger doing whatever it is to you!

Regardless of your owner using that nice tone of voice saying, "Blah, blah, blah, Laslo, blah, blah, blah." you are getting way upset.

What Happened Next?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. In your position as Laslo, what would you have done?
    • Ran out the door to save myself.
    • Bit the stranger to protect myself and my owner.
    • Begged for a treat to soothe my nerves.

Answer Key

  1. Bit the stranger to protect myself and my owner.

The dog bit me. I was grooming the dog. The owner continued rubbing and talking to the dog while I was bleeding, he tried two more times to bite me within seconds. I got out of the grooming trailer to get away from the dog.

The owner has no idea what she was conveying to her dog.

The petting of Laslo during the whole scenario was telling him that she approved of his behavior. Even after he bit me the petting continued! The owner was unknowingly encouraging his behavior! He tried to bite two more times and the petting never stopped.

The owner feels sorry for Laslo. She told me all about his rough puppyhood and so she feels sorry for him. Feeling sorry for a dog is harmful. Yes, it is sad that the dog had a poor puppyhood. But he is not in that situation any longer. He is in a good home and needs proper discipline to learn how to be a good member of the community.

Dogs do not reflect on such things as their poor puppyhood. Dogs live in the here and now.

This owner refused to correct Laslo's behavior. Using a harsh tone to correct his behavior is a big no-no for this owner. All because of his poor puppyhood.

Laslo, and other dogs with owners that feel sorry for them, have a very poor future ahead. If he is not taught proper behavior now, he will bite someone else. If a dog is prone to bite they are considered vicious by the city they live in. If they bite a child, there is a good chance the dog could be put to sleep. The child the dog bites will be scared for life.

Laslo needs an owner that will provide strict discipline to teach him right and wrong with plenty of kind rewards when he behaves well.

As a dog owner, think about how you are coming across to your dog. Take the words away because they mean nothing. Simple one word commands can be taught, conversations cannot. If your dog is displaying a behavior you don't like, take it upon yourself to find out why you are allowing him to do it. What are you doing that tells him this is okay? What are you not doing that makes him think it's okay?

If you rescue a dog living under poor conditions, kudo's to you and great big hugs! Now it's your responsibility to teach the dog properly. Hitting is unacceptable by any means. Good behavior can be taught with no physical abuse on your part. Many dogs recognize a stern voice or even a scowl on your face. Use these communication tactics to teach good from bad.

Your dog biting people should be unacceptable. It's up to you to teach him.

Further Reading...

There is another hub on this topic you can find here at Better Communication With Your Dog.

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