Dogs communicate with all the senses and the whole body. They receive information by sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. They use the Jacobson or vomeronasal organ to receive taste information.
How do dogs communicate? The three most important forms of communication are:
– olfactory communication
To receive messages, dogs use different sensory systems – sight, hearing, and smell.
Although in most dogs the sense of smell is much sharper than sight and can be considered the most important canine sense.
In communication involving the sender and recipient of the message, sight is still more important.
This is because some of the most pronounced communication signs (meaning everyone related to body language) are visual and dogs communicate most easily using them.
Dog behavior when communicating
Dog behavior is not difficult to describe, but if the owner lacks knowledge and experience, it can be very difficult to correctly interpret the message that is sent by this behavior.
To understand the message the dog is sending, it is necessary to learn what certain signals mean, and then pay special attention to the position of the tail, ears, eyes, mouth, and, of course, the posture of the whole body.
Communication of a dog with inanimate things
It is not uncommon for dogs to try to communicate with artificial animals that appear to them to be real (realistic animal sculptures for example).
The dog approaches the sculpture of some animal as if it were alive, but the fact that it does not have the expected smell confuses and makes it insecure (as indicated by licking, turning the head and raised paw).
Communication between dog and other animals
Dogs are able to successfully communicate with other animal species as well, not just their own.
If, as puppies, they are separated from litters and other dogs from about the third to the eighth week of life and have lived with other animals (such as sheep, cats or chickens) during that period, they are more likely to be associated with the species than with their own.
Dogs will prefer to spend time with members of this species than with other dogs.
In communication with members of another species, dogs will use the same signals and show the same forms of behavior as in communication with their own species.
If the other animal knows the canine communication system or can learn it, that communication will be successful. A dog can certainly have a close and relaxed relationship with other animal species as well.
Communication and relationship with a man
Without good communication, there is no good relationship.
This is also true for the dog-man relationship. A good relationship between a man and a dog is very important and can bring so much good to both dogs and humans.
That is why it is necessary to learn to communicate with dogs taking into account their needs, not just our human ones.
To succeed in this, one of the first things we need to learn is to get rid of the misconceptions we often start from when we start building a relationship with a dog.
Do not attribute human traits to a dog – the most common mistake
One of the basic features of human communication with a dog and one of the main reasons why this communication can be unsuccessful is man’s frequent and erroneous need to anthropomorphize the dog.
Man attributes to a dog-human trait, thoughts, feelings (e.g. jealousy, guilt, malice, vengeance).
This leads to a misunderstanding of some dog actions and making wrong conclusions about them and prevents quality communication between man and dog.
Many dog owners treat their dogs as if they were human, more specifically children, and in addition, this very often leads to the development of very serious problems in the dog’s behavior.
It prevents owners from properly understanding dog behavior and therefore inevitable situations are unfavorable for dogs.
This does not mean that dogs and humans do not share certain traits, but that those traits they share are not exclusively human.
For example, a dog may be lonely or happy just like a human, but it cannot be vindictive or resentful because those traits are exclusively human.
Frequent examples of attributing human traits to dogs are statements from owners claiming that their dog urinated on the couch because he wanted revenge on them.
The owners forbade him to climb on it, or that a dog that destroyed some piece of furniture or did something that the owner did not approve of “knows he is guilty”.
It is equally wrong for situations in which a dog separates two people who hug to be interpreted as jealousy.
However, although dog owners often feel that dogs are doing something because they are jealous, or because they would be harmed or retaliated against, such an interpretation of canine behavior is another act of anthropomorphism.
Many of the behaviors that owners most often associate with jealousy can be explained much more objectively.
For example, a dog that shows aggression when the owner greets another dog in the family is not jealous, but just wants the owner’s attention and believes that he and not the other dog is entitled to it.
By varnishing our dogs ’nails and dressing them in dresses, we turn them into what they are not in order to be more like us or meet our needs.
Sometimes we do not attribute “only” human qualities to them, but actively try to “turn” them into people, thus depriving them of their natural personalities.
Misinterpretation of certain behaviors leads to misunderstandings in communication between different species.
If communication is not clear, it usually leads to many problems.
To understand how dogs communicate and what they express in general, the owner needs to know the dog’s behavior well, know what certain dog body positions mean, facial expressions, signals sent by the dog, and, most importantly, must understand and recognize the context in which behavior shows.
Brushing and other forms of fur and body care (examination of ears, teeth, paws, etc.) should become a ritual from the very beginning because it nurtures close contact and builds trust between man and dog.
Understanding how dogs communicate directly affects our ability to understand problems in dog behavior. Without the first, there is no other, and that, unfortunately, is often forgotten.
Communication within the social structure
An indispensable part of any social structure is communication between its members. Canine communication relies mostly on posture, facial expressions, voice, and sense of smell.
Owners all too often misunderstand canine expectations from social communication and life in a social group, and this misunderstanding can lead to difficulties in human-dog coexistence.
Unlike humans, for whom verbal communication is the main form of communication, dogs rely much more on body language, primarily visual cues to send certain information.
This often makes it difficult for people to understand canine communication. Namely, as it is difficult not to hear people whining, howling, barking, and growling, this form of communication is closer to them.
While there is a possibility that these forms of sound communication will be misinterpreted, they will certainly be aware that the dog is communicating with them.
However, many forms of visual communication people do not notice at all (for example, that the dog is stiff or staring menacingly at someone).
And if you do notice them, there is a possibility that they will be misinterpreted (for example, when two dogs are weighed, it is easily possible that they will wag their tails stiffly, which many will misinterpret as if the dogs are peaceful and happy).
In coexistence with man, the dog sometimes has to learn skills that are not innate to him, but when he masters them, they become natural to him.
People communicate with words, dogs with body language
To understand all the complexities of the canine communication system, let’s consider the following: to enable quality communication, humans have developed an almost endless corpus of words.
Thousands of languages are spoken in the world. However, as dogs do not have a developed system of speech using articulated voices that form words and sentences, canine communication is largely limited to parts of the dog’s body.
And there aren’t many of them. Therefore, dogs use the same signs to send different messages, which they interpret depending on the situation.
This should always be kept in mind when observing canine interaction with its own and other species.
For example, a dog sniffing the ground may do so because it is studying a smell (such as another dog’s urine), but also because a certain situation makes him uncomfortable, so sniffing is an example of out-of-context behavior.
Scientific research on canine communication
In the last twenty years, many types of research on canine communication have been conducted in the world.
This has led to a greater awareness of how domestic dogs communicate, both with each other and with humans.
As early as the 19th century, Charles Darwin, a great English scientist, and naturalist wrote about the expression of feelings in humans and animals, including domestic dogs.
In the 1960s and 1970s, ethologists and behaviors studied the behavior and communication of animals in general, but also of animals from the dog family.
It took many more years before these insights at least partially reached a wider audience.
Roger Abrantes, a world-renowned ethologist, published many scientific papers and books in the 1980s and 1990s in which he studied canine behavior and canine language, the most famous of which is Dog Language: An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior.
Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas is most responsible for the final popularization of this topic among people outside the scientific community.
Her book on soothing signals (which was translated into English and first published in 1996 in the United States) has become very popular over the years and has allowed many dog owners to hear for the first time completely unknown signals used by dogs to communicate with each other. , but also with other species.
Intimacy in the relationship between man and dog
As with any relationship in life, the relationship with the dog needs to be worked on.
Mutual trust, consistency, reliability, love, affection, and warmth are good foundations and a relationship can be successfully built on them.
Physical touch as a way of communication in dogs
But for the relationship between man and dog to be really close, it is necessary to approach such a noble animal as a dog with the awareness that it is different from us and that, although we partly have the same needs, we do not satisfy them equally.
Dogs and humans experience and express closeness and connection differently.
People often express love and affection with hugs and kisses.
They are an essential part of our lives and we need them. Children who grow up without it are forever deprived of something to which they have every right and which they desperately need for healthy emotional development.
However, dogs are not human, and when we hug and kiss dogs, we do so taking into account our needs, not theirs.
Such behavior is not in the dog’s nature and they usually do not enjoy when people hug and kiss them.
This can be seen from their posture and facial expressions. Most dogs perceive hugging as threatening behavior, feel discomfort in such a situation, and try to avoid it.
Examples of intimacy and relaxation in the dog-human relationship. Although it is communication without words, it is anything but dumb.
Some dogs respond to a threat by cutting or showing their teeth when hugging them.
There are also dogs that don’t get too upset when someone hugs them – breeds bred to be very tolerant of humans, such as golden and labrador retrievers, are most common in that group of dogs – and who accept hugging without overly showing discomfort.
However, as hugging and kissing are considered something beautiful and pleasant, most often we do not even think about how the dog feels in these situations.
Therefore, it is not uncommon to see photos of a dog, and a person hugging it as a moment of closeness between a dog and a human.
In most cases, however, these photos show something completely different – a dog who is uncomfortable and who would move.
This is confirmed by the head turned away from the person, visible whites of the eyes, licked or lowered ears, yawning, open mouth because the dog is panting or, sometimes, if the mouth is closed, the tip of the tongue protruding through them.
Dogs, especially while puppies, can be taught to enjoy cuddling and scratching and to accept and tolerate such close contact as hugging or kissing, but still, when someone offered to choose between a hug and a walk, each dog would choose to walk.
But this does not mean that the dog does not need any form of physical contact with people and that he has no desire for such a form of communication.
On the contrary, dogs have been clinging to their siblings from the litter since birth, seeking warmth.
Coexistence with the mother and siblings is their first contact with life in the group, and actively seeking the closeness of other members of the group is a natural dog behavior.
Both puppies and adult dogs like to sleep with their people or other animals they live with. In these moments, they often seek the warmth and closeness of another’s body on their own.
In addition, many dogs enjoy other forms of touch, such as scratching and cuddling (running your hand over the dog’s body with long movements reminds him of the puppy period when his mother licked him to clean his feces and urine, and such behavior calms the dog).
Often, if as puppies they are accustomed to human touch, they will seek such physical contact themselves.
One of the differences between cuddling and lying next to someone, or even on someone, and hugging is that in the first two situations the dog is not physically restricted.
A hand relaxed over a dog while lying or sitting is not the same as a hug, which is firm and restraining for a dog, and too close a person can act threatening.
In order for a dog as an adult to enjoy physical contact with a human, it needs to start getting used to the touch while the puppy is still there and thus teach him to enjoy the touch.
Brushing and other forms of body care (examination of ears, teeth, paws, etc.) should become a ritual of social care for the dog from the very beginning.
This is essential for the emotional connection between a dog and a human because by teaching a dog to enjoy touch we also build his trust in us.
Touch is very important in building a relationship with a dog because accepting the touch and enjoying it is an indication that the dog has confidence in the human.
A distrustful dog, unaccustomed to physical contact with a human, will avoid touch.
Dogs communicate with their environment in a complex way. From the previous text, we can conclude that certain prior knowledge of only the owner about the dog as an animal is required.
If the owner knows the dogs well as an animal species then the communication between them will be good.
The owner will also understand the communication between the dogs themselves, and between dogs and other animal species.