If Our Pets Could Only Talk

By Jackie Kellum

pet dog


You know your dog pretty well.  Sometimes he talks out loud, sometimes his body language says it all. Dogs have similar brain structure and chemicals as humans, involving emotions. However, the mind of a dog is roughly equivalent to that of a human two year old. So do not give him more credit than a toddler. Toddlers and adult dogs have basic emotions like joy, fear, anger, disgust, excitement, contentment, distress, affection and love. A dog will not develop more complex emotions like guilt, pride, contempt or shame, even as he ages like a child would do into adulthood.

IF you come home and find that your dog has done something he should not have done, the dog has learned that when you appear and he has done something wrong, bad things happen to him. Do not misinterpret his slinking around behaviors showing guilt or shame, when in fact this behavior is fear of punishment.

Yes, dogs do dream. Studies have shown that small dogs have more dreams than big dogs. A small dog like a toy poodle may dream once every 10 minutes. While a large dog like a Dane or a Mastiff may have about an hour between dreams. But big dog’s dreams last longer.

Dog hair can tell a story. A scared or stressed dog is likely to shed hair more than normal. Take a look at the examining table after their visit with a Vet. Dogs may also stick up their hair which is sometimes called ‘raising their hackles’ when they are aroused about something. It is comparable to a person having ‘goose bumps.’  Raised hackles can mean that the dog is afraid, angry, insecure, unsure, nervous or very excited about something

Dogs do invite you and other dogs to play with them. They do what is called a ‘play bow.’ They  lower the front of their body with their front legs extended out in front of them, and their butt and tail high in the air. Sometimes it is accompanied by a bark. 

Tail position and barking are body language communications. Usually if the tail is held at a middle height, the dog is relaxed. As the tail position moves up, it is a sign that the dog is becoming more threatening, with the vertical tail being a clearly dominant signal meaning “I’m the boss around here.” 

Similarly, barks say a lot about what your dog is thinking. Low pitched sounds like growls make the animals seem larger and dangerous, usually indicating anger and possible aggression. High pitched sounds mean the opposite, a request to be allowed to come closer or a doggie signal saying: “It’s safe to approach.”  There is a whole bark ‘vocabulary.’ Sounding the alarm is a rapid string of 2-4 barks with some pauses. This equals “there’s something going on and should be checked.” Continuous slow low pitched barking suggests that there is an imminent problem. And there are happy barking sounds. Barks in one or two sharp in the high to mid-range is the most typical greeting sound. This sometimes replaces an alarm sound once the dog recognized the person approaching them is really a friend and not an unknown. A long string of solitary barks with deliberate pauses after each bark is a signal of a lonely dog asking for companionship. Time for fun sounds like a stuttering bark, sounding like ‘harr-ruff‘ with the front legs flat on the ground and rear held high. That equals “Let’s play!”                                                                  

Next time, dog tail wagging language will be discussed.

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