Know Your Pooch
What is he trying to say!
Dog ethology or behavioral science is quite an interesting subject. Unlike Human behavior, dog’s behavior is quite simple. A human brain is much more evolved, hence it is more complex. Human behavior is difficult to predict, while one can almost read dog’s mind and predict his next move.
The only problem in understanding a dog’s behavior is the language. Poor creatures can’t speak, can’t express much, hence one has to ‘decode’ a dog’s behavior. In order to ‘decode’ the behavior, the dog psychologists try to observe, study and interpret the behavior of similar carnivores like, foxes, coyotes, jackals and wolves. These animals are all far off cousins of dogs. Wolves howl for a variety of reasons. Communication is one of them and another is group singing. A lone wolf lost in the forest gives a long howl to draw the attention of his mates and also gives them his location. Similarly, a dog left alone in the house by the masters sometimes howls to call his mates/master. Group singing in wolves is quite common, either for celebrating their togetherness or informing the other groups about occupancy of a particular area. One wolf gives the cue and the group joins him. Same way when a chord is struck on the violin or the siren of an ambulance, winding it’s way through a crowd, your dog takes it as a cue and begins to sing. Scrapping the ground after evacuation is another wolverine trait in dogs. Though wolves and cats completely cover their urine or feces, dog’s attempts look ‘half-hearted’. Earlier many dog ethologists thought that perhaps the domestication has impaired the dog’s natural ability to cover. Later, it was found that the action is not for covering; on the other hand, it is for leaving claw marks on the ground for the adversary to examine. Dogs often nibble their owners. This is misunderstood as an attempt to bite. If you observe carefully all dogs groom each other frequently. Away from his species, in your house the dog tries to groom you rather.
Sound is a very primal and primitive form of communication. Dogs produce a variety of sounds via barks and whimpers. Understanding these sounds and their interpretation can tell the master what the dog is actually trying to say. Barks vary for an intruder and a guest. Elephants are known to produce sounds inaudible to human ears, called infra-sounds for long distance communication. Similarly, dogs try to do ‘breath talking’. When you return from work, your dog comes running to you and sits with his chin on your knees. Just stroke his forehead and try to hear what he is trying to say through his breath. A contended dog when he lies down gives out a loud sigh of relief. An agitated dog pants a lot. An observant master can always make out what the dog is trying to express. It is interesting to know that dog is more observant than his master is. We have to ‘decode’ their behavior because they do not have a spoken language. They constantly decode our behavior. For example, your dog can make out that you are going out from the way you dress. It is still more interesting to know that like we train the dogs to our advantage, they also train us to their advantage. Once a lady approached me and said that her Lhasa apso suddenly starts barking in a shrill voice and has to be lifted up and scolded. The dog becomes quiet after he is held in lap for some time. Actually the dog had ‘trained’ her to lift him every time he cried and ‘rewarded’ her by becoming quiet. The irony is that the lady was ‘rewarding’ the dog for barking by lifting him up every time he barked. Similarly, a visitor comes to your house and your chained dog keeps on barking till he is taken to the visitor. He may not even look at the visitor, but becomes quiet. In his wisdom he has trained you to unchain him as soon as a visitor comes to the house.
Examples are innumerable, animal ethology continues to be fascinating. Dog ethology is all the more interesting, as they are part and parcel of the household. Though God only knows who is trying to ‘decode’ whom!
Understand that gaze!
A perfect example of the dichotomy between dog-to-dog versus dog-to-human facial expression is the eye contact. Between dogs, eye contact signals aggression; between humans, eye contact is an integral part of communication. Dogs have acquired this understanding and use their gaze to win approval from and show love for their humans. They also make eye contact to communicate their emotions and needs: like they may be wanting a pat, a treat, a quick trip to the lawn. Understand that gaze because it is vital for a healthy communication between you and your pooch. However, if your pooch blinks while making eye contact with you, he may be contemplating what you’re thinking. This is particularly true if you’ve just given a command. The same is true of squinting during eye contact. But squinting and repetitive blinking may mean something entirely different when a dog is not looking into your eyes. Squinting can signal pain or illness. Rapid blinking can indicate stress or fear. Dogs are aware that eye contact with humans signals trust and comfort. A dog that avoids eye contact with humans is doing his best to avoid any kind of interaction, whether negative or positive. We see this sometimes in dogs that have recently been rescued from bad situations. If your pooch tilts his head while looking at you, it means your dog is curious. When your dog lowers or bows his head while gazing up at you, it’s an act of submission. Ear flattening isn’t a good sign. If you see a dog pulling both ears tight against his head, it could be a sign of aggression or of fear. Alternatively, it could be a sign your dog has an ear infection. a yawn could indicate tiredness or sleepiness. But it can also be associated with moments of stress. It doesn’t take a dog behavioral specialist to recognize when your dog’s “smile” is more of a “snarl”. But when your dog pulls his lips up vertically to display his front teeth while also wrinkling his muzzle, he’s angry—especially when he raises his ears up and stares steadily. There’s a good chance a growl is coming and then a bite if you are not careful. In humans, we understand the difference between a smile and a grimace. The same applies to dogs. When your dog draws his lips back horizontally so that you can see all his teeth, it indicates discomfort or fear. This becomes even more obvious when it’s accompanied by ear-flattening and/or panting. These are only a few examples of dog expressions, those who keep them as family members and really care for them, can read their pooch like the back of their hand!