Thoughts on communication as a way to better understand dog behavior

The domestic dog spends the majority of his/her life interacting with an utterly noncanine animal, the human. Many dogs today live as the minority species in a household without other dogs and often they are required to interact more with humans than with other dogs. Dogs communicate with those around them constantly, so in order to avoid misunderstanding and potential conflict we as their guardians and supporters, “…must learn to listen to what the dog is telling us” (Rugaas, 2008). Misinterpretation of what a dog is communicating fosters stress and anxiety in an animal who may be communicating an imperative need, like space from surrounding humans. Miscommunication between humans and dogs can fail to address potentially pertinent issues like a perceived threat, which increases the risk of a dog displaying a threat behavior or even biting. Biting is a completely natural type of retaliation for a dog and is their greatest defense against any perceived threat, but the majority of humans feel otherwise and, “routinely execute dogs who bite” (Donaldson, 1996). The possible consequence of euthanasia highlights the importance of addressing miscommunication between these two species – particularly for the dog. “Living with dogs means that you must work at establishing a common language between the two of you” (Aloff, 2005). This may seem obvious advice, but I believe that when considering more specific issues, like the problem of dog bites, we will find that a great portion of the problem stems from a foundation of miscommunication.

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