“If only I could understand what my dog was thinking.”
Have you ever said that to yourself? I have.
I’m guessing there are millions of us since researchers keep working on tools that translate barks and harnesses that allow handlers to communicate with dogs at a distance.
But do you ever sit down to think how good our dogs are at understanding what we want? And how good we are at understanding them?
A Day Talking With Honey
If I look back to yesterday, Honey and I understood each other dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. It’s really amazing when you think about it.
Here are just a few of the times we talked to each other.
4:45 a.m. Honey Talks To My Husband
First she stands up in her crate. Then she starts to whine. Honey would like to cuddle on the bed before we get up.
4:45:30 a.m. My Husband Talks To Honey
Mike opens the crate with his toe. He pulls the covers up to his neck. And he taps the bed to signal it’s time for Honey to jump up.
5:50 a.m. Honey Talks To My Husband
Honey has to pee. She stands up, looks at us, and jumps off the bed.
5:51 a.m. My Husband Talks To Honey
Mike gets off the bed, moves to the top of the steps, and calls Honey to his side.
6:30 a.m. Honey Talks To Me
While I’m working at my desk, Honey comes over, looks me in the eye, and barks.
6:30:05 a.m. I Talk To Honey
I say, “It’s not time for breakfast, Honey. Thirty minutes to go.”
6:30:10 a.m. Honey Talks Back
After a long, meaningful stare, Honey lies down at my feet.
8:00 a.m. I Talk To Honey
“Do you want to go for a walk?” I move toward the pantry to get Honey’s leash.
8:00:02 a.m. Honey Talks To Me
Honey’s eyes light up immediately. She follow me to the pantry.
8:02 a.m. Honey Talks To Me
Honey looks back inside as we head out on the porch. Isn’t Mike going with us? When we get down the stairs, she looks back at the door, sniffs the neighbor’s bush, and stands still in the rain to give my husband time to catch up.
Once he does, we head out on our walk.
You can see how many times we understand our dogs and our dogs understand us, right? And these are just big enough interactions that they catch my notice.
Honey is watching us all the time and responding to our actions. For dogs, we communicate best when we don’t use words.
There’s one more conversation between Honey and my husband that made me laugh.
9:38 p.m. Honey Talks To My Husband
Although she was just outside for a break, Honey barks. She moves into the bedroom and barks again.
9:39 p.m. My Husband Talks To Honey
I pause the movie we were watching. Honey goes over to Mike in the hall and stands at the top of the stairs. Does she need to go outside again?
After a few moments with Honey making no movement to go downstairs, Mike calls her to follow him into the office.
9:39:30 p.m. Honey Talks To My Husband
Honey jumps onto the couch in the place where my husband had recently been sitting.
9:39:35 p.m. My Husband Talks to Honey
My husband grabs the desk chair and sits it down next to where Honey is sitting on the couch. This time, Honey gets the comfy seat.
How We Talk To Our Dogs
I know people who would be horrified at the thought of allowing the dog to sit on the couch while a person sits on a hard, wooden chair.
Those same people would probably need medical treatment if they saw me occasionally sitting on the floor while Honey cuddles on the love seat with Mike.
But when I look over a typical day, I find that I ask Honey for a lot. She has to
- walk without pulling on her leash, no matter how slow I go
- stay calm when other dogs walk by, even if they’re asking for a game of bitey face
- wait to eat until I tell her it’s time
- keep all four paws on the floor when making new friends, even if her joy is causing her to levitate
- stay inside with me instead of wandering around the neighborhood exploring.
And that’s a very small sample of the things I ask Honey to do in any given day.
When you live with a dog, you’re constantly talking to each other. Even if you don’t say a word, you’re telling your dog things with your body and she’s telling you things with hers.
Isn’t it wonderful how well we understand each other?
When you take into account all the ways we talk to our dogs throughout a day, every day, we’re almost as amazing as… as… extreme sheepherders and their border collies.
And we get to talk to our dogs about more than just sheep.
Your Turn: Do you ever take time to think about how well you and your dogs talk to each other? Is there one way you’re particularly good at understanding each other?
Note: For my younger readers, that moment at 1:11 is what video games looked like when I was a kid. I can’t wait to see extreme sheepherding trying to recreate World of Warcraft.