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Is Your Dog Trying To Talk To You?
This famous pup-fluencer has us wondering if our dogs are trying to talk to us and what they are trying to say!
Not only is Bunny the Sheepadoodle adorable, but a viral social media video of Bunny telling her owner what she dreamed has raised questions in the scientific community regarding the cognitive abilities of dogs. In this video, Bunny’s owner asks her questions about a recent dream. Bunny, who has been trained to communicate using augmentative and alternative communication, is able to answer that she dreamed about a “strange animal.” Essentially, Bunny has a large display of buttons in front of her that each say different words and phrases when she hits the buttons with her paw. She frequently delights her millions of followers on Instagram and TikTok by answering her owner’s various questions and seemingly giving us deeper insight into how dogs think.
Of course, we can’t be entirely sure that Bunny’s talking is legitimate. She could have been trained to hit certain buttons or there is some manipulation happening behind the scenes that we don’t know about. However, the phenomena of this talking dog has led to debate in the scientific community regarding how much dogs can truly understand and communicate. In the past, dogs were assumed to have similar mental abilities to that of a 2 year old human toddler. Studies have shown that most dogs can learn to understand 100-200 words, and are smart enough to deceive other dogs and people to get treats. Others argue that any intelligence we deem dogs to have simply comes from the ideomotor effect and anamorphism, which essentially suggests we are subconsciously attributing a mind to dogs that projects and reflects our own thoughts and feelings.
That said, there is always a chance that Bunny is completely legitimate and we are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of understanding the true cognitive abilities of dogs. Bunny is one of 1,300 dogs currently taking part in the “They Can Talk” Study that is currently taking place at University of California, San Diego to see if dogs really can express themselves in language-like ways. Although the researchers were initially skeptical about what they would learn, the scientists working on this study now report that the dogs are exceeding expectations. Researchers are finding that once the dogs understand what the buttons mean, they can form multi-button combinations to form phrases and short sentences with up to 6 buttons at a time, which was more than expected.
While we wait for updates on the possible cognitive and communicative abilities of dogs to come in the future, we do know for sure that dogs use their body language to communicate with us all the time. Understanding that body language is critical in training our furry companions to behave appropriately and to foster an environment where your dog feels safe and happy. Neglecting to understand your dog’s body language can lead to frustration and outbursts of aggression. If you want to learn more about how to interpret your dog’s body language, we recommend working with a professional trainer, consulting with your veterinarian, or tuning in to see how Cesar Millan works his dog training magic on “Cesar 911.” In the meantime, here are 5 signals dogs frequently send us through their body language.
The Tail Wag:
When you think of dogs, you likely immediately picture a wagging tail. While this signal is often attributed toward happiness, it’s not the only thing that a tail wag can be saying. Depending on the speed and orientation of the wagging tail, the dog could be feeling happiness and excitement, or he could be feeling on guard or frustration. For example, a dog whose tail is wagging like a helicopter or his whole body seems to wag with the tail is probably relaxed and happy. In dogs that are feeling negatively about something, you may notice their tail tends to be wagging toward their left side.
The Tail Placement:
Speaking of tails, the placement of the tail can tell you a lot about how your dog is feeling. For example, a nervous, stressed, or scared dog may carry his tail low or tucked between his legs while an overly confident dog will hold his tail high. Each dog will have a neutral tail position when they are feeling relaxed, but that will vary based on breed.
Always pay attention to your dog’s posture and how he shifts his weight. These posture changes may be subtle, but your dog is always telling you something about his mood and intention. To illustrate, a dog with a raised paw that is “pointing” may be indicating that prey is near, but he could also be saying he is uncertain or insecure about something. Another example is when a dog shifts his weight forward, he is trying to get closer to something of interest. While this could indicate curiosity, it can also be offensive if paired with aggressive behavior cues and your dog is trying to make himself appear larger. A cowering dog that is hunched low to the ground is telling you he is fearful or stressed, while a dog exposing his belly could be showing submission or asking for a belly rub.
Dogs use their entire bodies to express themselves, and that includes their faces. We yawn when we are tired, but our dogs yawn to relax themselves during stressful situations, like during visits to the vet. That said, if you yawn at your dog, don’t be surprised if your dog yawns back. Yawns are contagious, even between species! Another common facial behavior you may see in dogs is lip licking. While this could be done to show appreciation for a delicious meal, it may also signal your dog is feeling anxiety. Last but not least, your dog may smile with his front teeth when he is relaxed and happy. If you aren’t familiar with this expression, it might look a little scary. But rest assured that a front-tooth smile paired with relaxed body language just means your pup is happy. A dog that has aggressive intentions will show his teeth with curled lips and a snarl, so the difference should be obvious!
You may have heard it said that the eyes are the window to the soul. This is definitely true in dogs. A dog’s eyes can be hard or soft, with soft eyes and relaxed eyelids indication relaxation and calm with hard eyes seeming cold. When dogs have hard eyes, they may be feeling something negative. A dog that holds a long stare at something is usually a sign that a dog has identified a threat. Meanwhile, a dog may not be willing to stare lovingly into your eyes for an extended period of time because eye contact can be a challenge and looking away is meant to foster calm and show submission. Lastly, a dog that shows the whites of his eyes is saying he is feeling stressed or anxious.
Of course, none of these body language signals work alone. Instead, each signal works together to send a distinct message. By getting to know your dog and understanding what these behaviors signal, you’ll be better able to interpret what your dog is trying to tell you. Until talking dogs like Bunny become the norm, this is the best way to communicate with your dog and speak the same language.
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