Dogs Talk To Us (If We’d Only Learn To Listen)

Honey stood with her paws on the bottom step and looked up at me. She had something to tell me and I had to figure out what it was.

You see, I believe our dogs talk to us. And we only need to learn to listen.

Honey the golden retriever sun bathes at the dock.

Do you think I’m trying to tell you I like sunbathing in the nude?

Just Let Me Sleep

Honey loves to sleep in.

Honey the golden retriever goes under cover.

Get that camera out of my face. I’m trying to sleep.

After she eats breakfast at 7 a.m., she’s happy to doze for the next few hours. Unfortunately, on travel days, it’s tough catching a nap.

Shortly after breakfast my husband takes Honey off the boat for a good run, play time, and a bathroom break. Since she’ll be confined to the boat until we make our next port, we want to give her every chance to get her ya yas out.

Once Honey and Mike come back, the boat is the center of lots of activity—putting things away, turning on the instruments, disconnecting shore power, and finally, casting off our lines and setting sail.

Honey tries to sleep in the cockpit. But it ain’t easy with us rushing and me stepping around her flinging lines (ropes).

The other day, we added the step of taking the cover off the engine to check out a problem.

Uh, oh. Now it’s getting dangerous. Time to put Honey below.

Honey the golden retriever dozes in the sailboat cabin.

Ahh, finally some peace.

We thought she’d be upset to be separated from us. But actually, she seemed relieved to be able to sleep undisturbed.

At least until Honey finished her beauty sleep.

I’m Ready To Come Up Now

Around noon, I looked down to see Honey looking up at us from the cabin. She put her front paws on the bottom step of the companionway ladder and just looked.

What did she want?

It was Honey’s way of telling us she had spent enough time sleeping alone in the cabin. Now she wanted someone to lift her up so she could sleep beside us in the cockpit.

She Talks With Her Eyes

Compared to some dogs I’ve known, Honey is not very vocal.

Occasionally she’ll let out a demand woof when we’re eating something especially yummy. And if we’re off the boat talking to a stranger (like when we arrive at a fuel dock), she goes nuts barking until she’s allowed to join the party.

But most of what Honey wants to tell us she does by positioning her body and talking with her eyes. And generally we understand what she’s trying to say.

There’s her “it’s time for bed, please lift me into the v-berth and follow as soon as possible” look.

And her “I’m thirsty and my water bowl is empty” look.

It’s hard to miss her “I’m feeling a little uncertain of myself and I’d like you to settle down so I can cuddle with you” look.

Honey the golden retriever cuddles on the boat on the Chesapeake Bay.

I love being underway in the Chesapeake Bay when it’s cold. It’s perfect napping weather.

And who could fail to understand her “I’d like a little something of what you’re eating?” Especially when it’s accompanied by Honey drooling all over my foot.

Two Kinds Of Dog Lovers

Sometimes I ask myself what makes some dog lovers different?

Honey the golden retriever wants a bully stick to chew on.

Do you have to ask if I’d like a bully stick to chew on?

I’ve met people who love their dogs but don’t seem to understand them very well. They don’t realize that their dog

  • doesn’t know his name
  • feels uncomfortable or afraid
  • won’t exercise herself out in the yard because all she really wants is the company of her people.

And then there are the other dog lovers. The ones who

  • add another family member only after considering their dog’s needs
  • pay attention to their dog in all new situations
  • understand what their dog is trying to tell them most of the time.

Y’know, people like you. Who are reading this right now.

Honey the golden retriever chews on a bully stick on the sailboat.

Of course I want a bully stick to chew on.

The big divide between dog lovers is not based on training philosophies or whether the dog has lots of toys and treats. It’s not based on working dogs vs companion dogs.

The big divide in dogdom is between people who listen to their dogs and people who don’t.

Maybe if we could convince every dog lover that dogs have something to say and are worth listening to, we’d have much happier dogs.

And happier people too.

Honey the golden retriever chews on a bully stick underway on Chesapeake Bay.

I’m so glad my person understood me asking for a bully stick.

Your Turn: Has your dog ever told you something you had trouble figuring out? What was it?

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  1. I’m having trouble figuring out what Blueberry is telling me when we are walking and she starts to chew on shrubs or sticks in the trail. Is she bored – is she just trying to get a reaction out of me? She doesn’t do it on all trails, just on particular ones, but not every time on those particular trails. The rest of the time, I can understand most of what she “tells” me. She’s much more brazen about letting me know what she wants these days as opposed to when I brought her home almost 4 years ago. I cannot believe it’s only beeen 4 years. It feels much longer.

    • From the Husband:

      If the shrubs and sticks on which Blueberry is chewing are juniper shrubs and sticks, then Blueberry is saying, “I prefer gin to vodka.”

      Incidentally, this demonstrates why my wife doesn’t sweat it when I don’t comment here very often.

  2. Mom spends a lot of time learning to read us, especially with our sports. She has learned to talk less and observe more. She does a pretty good job of knowing what we want from how we tell her with our actions and expressions.

    • Particularly in nose work where the human is told not to communicate with the dog. It can be hard to shut up and listen for many of us.

      You’re lucky, Emma, that your mom is such a good listener. :)

  3. My dogs have done a great job of teaching me to read their minds. And if the water or food bowls are empty they scoot them across the floor. They do a little peepee dance when they want to go outside. Their needs are simple.

  4. I think we have to listen to our dogs, watch all the cues, and understand them. We are their portal into the human world. If they aren’t happy with something, we have to know that and make it right for them.

  5. Such a good point and so accurate. Luckily, I can usually figure out what they are trying to tell me – Labs really aren’t very subtle.

  6. Cardigans understand an incredible amount of English, Jimmy especially. You can ask him a lot of questions he knows how to respond to. What do you want to do? He’ll run and get his toy or go to the back door. Do you want a treat? He runs to the cookie jar. Are you sleepy, is it time for bed? He runs upstairs. Do you want a chew? Both run downstairs to the laundry room where I keep the “stash”. Which way? means they get to pick where our walk goes….

    So when they want something, they are pretty good at getting me to say the right words…

    • BOL! Sounds like you have two smarties living with you.

      I’ve noticed Honey learning new words by elimination like that border collie who knew all the names to her toys. It’s fascinating what these fuzzy aliens can do that we don’t always give them credit for.

  7. If only EVERYONE listened more and barked less about everything, I’m sure they’d hear what is trying to be said. :)

  8. Harley is a very clear and concise communicator. He’s very easy to figure out. Jax on the other hand hasn’t quite mastered the art of communication therefore we are still fumbling through our days. It’s getting better but the process is slow –