You Know He’s Your Best Friend, but Do You Really Know Your Dog?

Dog Behavior & Training > Bonding With Your Dog >

Understanding your dog’s behavior is often closely linked to their intended breed background. Herding, sporting, working, toy, etc. are groups that share very similar personality traits. Knowing your dog’s breed composition may be quite insightful for understanding their behaviors and the best methods of amusing them.

However, mixed breed dogs are often quite ambiguous when it comes to understanding their breed composition. Thanks to the wonderful marvels of science, mixed breed dog owners can find out which breed components their best friend possesses. Metamorphix, a company based in Maryland, will genetically test dogs and report nearly 40 known breeds that your dog is made of.

Finding out your dog’s “ingredient list” has never been easier, thanks to testing based on DNA recovery from a mouth swab.

Studies have shown that the average dog possesses the intelligence of a 3-year-old child. This corresponds to an ability to learn basic commands, express themselves (not always clearly), and interpret some emotions of those around them. Some breeds certainly display character traits much more advanced than this. Herding breeds for example appear to understand and function in complex thinking patterns. It’s clear that many dogs understand certain words, for example recognizing toys on command. Perhaps talking to your dog isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. Want to know your dogs IQ? Check out the Dog IQ test!

Once you know what your dog is made of and how smart he is, read these tips and learn how to really know your dog.

Body Language

Our dogs will never speak to us with the same verbal language as a human, but they do tell us everything we need to know about how they are feeling through body postures and vocalizations.

Using their ears, eyes, mouth, teeth, tongue, and tail, our dogs speak loud and clear. It is our job to learn to speak their language so we can interpret what they are saying, and respond in an appropriate manner.

Click here to learn how to identify the signs and cues your dog gives when he is happy/friendly, excited, fearful, and stressed.

The Bark

A few years ago, an article in the Smithsonian magazine concluded that dogs may bark for no reason. It’s just something that they do — a function without a purpose, so to speak.

That view is not widely shared. Even dry, dusty studies of wild canine behavior attest to the fact that barking serves a function of long-range communication. It is at least as important to dogs as a marine foghorn warning is to mariners. Even the most elementary interpretation of barking is that it is a non-visual communication signaling the dog’s presence and territorial concerns.

Most dog owners believe that they can recognize their dog’s different types of barking. The dog may, for example, emit an excited, alerting bark when a friend approaches the home but may sound more aggressive and foreboding when a stranger or a would-be intruder draws close. In addition to the different tones of barking, the same tone of bark can be used in different situations to “mean” different things.

If your dog’s ball has rolled under the couch and he wants someone to get it out, he may bark for assistance. A learned communication, like verbal language in people, a bark is used in this context because it works to produce the desired response from you. Once he gains your attention, you recognize immediately what the dog wants by: the barking itself, the dog’s orientation, and the situation. Humans also use a variety of signals to communicate with each other; they speak, orientate, gesticulate, and use facial expressions and other body language.

But could you understand what your dog wants by listening to him bark on the telephone? Probably not. But you might be able to determine the tone of the bark (friendly or hostile), the volume and intensity of the bark (his state of arousal), and the duration of barking — continuous or intermittent (indicating how intent the dog is).

Obviously, barking is not as sophisticated a method of vocal communication as human language but it works to convey elementary messages. Humans probably grunted their wishes to each other and barked orders a few hundred generations ago. It was a start. Interestingly, human consonant sounds are thought to be “hard-wired” from these humble beginnings just as the dogs bark is “hard-wired.” Human language (in any country) comprises different constellations of consonants strung together in creative ways. Dogs have a long way to go to catch up, but some do seem to try very hard with what little hard-wired sound-producing ability they possess by using different intensities, tones, and groupings of barks, growls, and mutters, interspersed with the occasional howl to get their message across.


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