Listen Carefully To Anyone Different From You – Good for the Dog; Good for You

Honey has made two new friends lately. Or rather, one new friend and one invisible one.

Honey the Golden Retriever puppy meets Riley.

Are you saying that I’m going to grow up to be as handsome as you?

Her first new friend is a handsome and well socialized chocolate lab. They love to just hang out together or chase each other around the yard.

Her second new friend is a sweet and equally well socialized Boston terrier. Honey and this dog have shown no negative reactions to each other. But when the terrier invites Honey to play, my golden looks right over her head as if she doesn’t exist.

I have a few theories:

  • Honey has decided that the little black dog I call Pumpkin Butt is beneath her notice,
  • Boston terriers are invisible to Golden Retrievers, or
  • Honey can’t understand the pidgin canine of this snorty pup with a pushed in nose and a stubby tail.

Something I read recently in Dr. Vint Virga’s The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human (an affiliate link) makes me think it’s the last one.

Dr. Virga talks about how the pack structure of wolves and their uniform appearance helps them communicate effectively with each other.

While dogs—without a formal pack structure, constrained by leashes or fences, and with all different kinds of manners and appearance—find it more challenging to understand each other. I like the way Dr. Virga described it:

…the traits we’ve chosen for each breed add a twist to how they express themselves. A boxer’s idea of wagging with glee—his full rump wiggling side to side—is different from that of an Irish setter, broadly sweeping her feathered tail. A Shelter eager to go outdoors spins in circles and barks in fits; beside her a Newfoundland licks his lips, pants, and soaks his bib with drool, while gazing longingly out the door. No wonder they look at each other befuddled and end up misreading the other’s cues. Comparably, wolves have it easy.

Dog park misunderstandings make more sense when you think of it that way, don’t they?

Honey the Golden Retriever meets a Corgi through the fence.

You are the strangest Golden Retriever I’ve ever seen. What happened to your legs?

People have it tough too. I can’t tell you how many arguments my husband and I have had where after I got all hot and bothered he replied, “Yes, that’s exactly what I was saying.” We’ve got to be the only people who fight when we agree with each other.

Years ago I read about an American who moved to Vietnam. One day, while driving through a remote village, a child ran into the road. The man barely stopped in time.

The child’s mother, who was sitting beside the road, started giggling. The man lost it and started screaming at the woman for being so callous as to giggle when her child was nearly killed. Later, when telling the story to a Vietnamese friend, the man learned that giggling is a common reaction to strong emotion in that culture.

That mother wasn’t callous. She was horrified.

When people talk to each other, our words and body language express a lot. But our communication also relies on our culture and our experiences.

Maybe when we’re talking to someone very different from ourselves, we need to slow down and listen more carefully.

That’s a lesson Honey has learned as she has matured.

Honey was one of “those puppies.” The kind who jumped right in the face of every dog she met. As a puppy, she got away with it.

But as she grew older, she needed to learn some impulse control. Our trainer helped us teach her how to respond calmly to other dogs on leash and not rush into their faces.

Honey the Golden Retriever makes a friend while camping.

Hey big boy, you’re pretty handsome. Want to come by for a drink with me?

A secondary benefit of that training, however, has been that when she is given permission to greet another dog, her greetings are much smarter. The time she spends waiting for the release to say hello, allows her to read the other dog’s body language. And Honey, instead of jumping all over another dog when we say “ok,” fits her greeting to the dog’s demeanor.

She’s learned how to listen carefully to a dog who is different from her. Perhaps someday she’ll even have a conversation with a Boston terrier.

Honey the Golden Retriever takes a nap on a lap.

He sure looks funny. But he knows just what to do on the beach.

How much better would human communication be if we listened more carefully to someone different from us? After all, if it’s good for the dog, it might just be good for us.

Your Turn: Does your dog communicate more easily with dogs more like them? And have you found it harder to communicate with people whose experiences and culture are very different from yours?

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  1. Callie, Shadow, and Ducky's Mom says:

    Actually, I find it easier to communicate with someone from a different culture than with someone from a different part of the USA. Maybe because I try a little harder to understand their words and body language? A genuine smile goes a long way to breaking down barriers. Yet, I find that too many of us Americans — myself included — are in too much of a hurry to really stop and listen to someone else whose native language is the same as our own. We need to “stop and smell the roses” at least once a day. And, no, you and Mike are NOT “the only people who fight when [you] agree with each other” — Sam and I do too. It doesn’t make sense, but it happens because we keep hearing what we THINK the other is saying instead of what they actually ARE saying. The bad thing is that when we really “get into it”, all 3 of the dogs get upset. And Ducky REALLY gets upset. (Good topic for another post!)

  2. This is a great post! It gives so much food for thought!

    1st) I’ve never met a Golden puppy that wasn’t “one of those puppies”. The same is true for Lab pups. I think it is just part of their genetics :-)

    2nd) My in-laws have a Pug. Wilson, who pretty much gets along with all dogs, does not like him. I’ve even seen Wilson curl his lip, which is so totally out of character. I truly believe he does not like/understand all that none-stop snorting and nose-spray. I have to say, my glasses take a beating whenever he visits, always covered in pug-snot :-)

    3rd) I have a hard time talking with someone who’s English is so accented as to be unintelligible. My patience runs out quickly, and I find myself avoiding that person. Not very nice of me, that’s for sure! Especially when they deserve tons of credit for learning what is w/o doubt a very difficult language to master.

    4th) My Corgis always gravitate toward the other Corgis in a crowd.

  3. I think dogs are a bit like people and they tend to gravitate towards others like themselves. There are some dogs we just don’t like, personality, smell, who knows but just because we are dogs doesn’t mean we are automatically friends. My sister and I never really see others like us since we are rare breeds, but when we do, we all have the same moves and manners. Mom traveled the world as a kid and then was a F/A, so she knows the different cultures and how you have to adapt. I guess I am a worldly dog with five countries under my fur belt. Dogs in Germany are much better behaved and more mellow I would say.

  4. We agree we think dog breeds gravitate to their own kind. The Vietnam story was interesting. Have a marvellous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  5. Completely agree, I want to be friends with most dogs, but always make a beeline for sibes and mallies :-)

  6. Dogs just don’t get Maya. She tries so hard to make friends at the dog park but no one wants to play with her. I think it is her over-exuberance, but haven’t really figured it out. My husband is Chinese so you’d think we have a lot of cultural misunderstandings. Surprisingly, we don’t. I was talking to a woman from England last month and she is married to an American. She said that she and her husband had misunderstandings for years regarding the phrase, “I’m fed up”. To her it means, “I’m bored”. To us Americans it means, “I’m tired of this crap”.

  7. Great post. I haven’t noticed Rita being particularly okay/not okay with certain breeds (she’s more “okay off leash”/”not okay on”). But our beagle didn’t like little fluffy dogs. Don’t know why.

    It’s definitely hard to communicate when you don’t speak the same language. My MiL speaks pretty good English, but she doesn’t understand as well as she speaks – which leads to some miscommunication quite often when she comes to visit. It’s even worse on the phone when you can’t “talk” with your hands.

    At least dogs don’t have to try to talk over the phone!

  8. Hannah too used to greet dogs in a very ‘in-your-face’ kind of way . Needless to say, some dogs don’t take kindly to that. Luckily, after being told off by a couple of dogs, she’s learnt to greet dogs gently and approach carefully. By the way, a chocolate lab is the perfect companion to a golden retriever, I should know! :)

  9. Interesting post…I’ve read things like this about dogs that carry their tails high, like Akitas. Other dogs see that as dominance, but it’s really, just how WE made them.

    Makes it much harder for them, I’m sure. Just another way us humans make life difficult for our dogs. Glad Honey is able to work with all that, and manages to make friends along the way. And of course, like the terrier, she doesn’t have to love everyone she meets. :-)

  10. I am not sure Chester and Gretel “communicate” better with dogs like them. However, I will say that normally reactive Dachshunds in our Adventureweiner Club get along way better with other Doxies. I never thought that it had to do with a shared body language or “hey, you look and act like me” feeling. Interesting point.

    My Dad took care of a baby Teacup Yorkie for a friend a few years ago. That small, fluffy thing looked like a hamster….and sounded more like a rabid one than a dog. It tried to do the play bow with Chester (imagine the scene…Chester is short but this thing was “beneath him”) but he just looked at it like “what is this thing”? He didn’t know it was a dog I think. Luckily, he didn’t think it was a hamster either and try to eat it :) I think he was just confused.

  11. My dog, Cody is the only husky around, so nobody really looks like him. We live in a pet friendly apartment building so he has become well socialized with many different breeds.

    Most of his doggy friends are close to his size and they get along very well. He is curious when he meets tiny breeds, as if he’s not quite sure if they are really dogs. Tiny dogs tend to get quite aggressive towards him (who can blame them? He looks like a wolf!) which confuses him even more. So I tend to only let him play with Labs or other dogs that are close to his size.

  12. If it makes you feel better, you’re not the only couple who ends up arguing even when they’re in agreement! I have the same problem sometimes.

  13. Frankie doesn’t like male Boxers and I have read that a lot of dogs don’t like the short nosed breeds. Beryl is OK with Boxers but doesn’t like enthusiastic greetings from any dog and she loves being with other Greyhounds.

    I don’t meet many people of different cultures, I lead a very sheltered life!