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 How to Speak Dog:  Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication by Stanley Coren


english cocker spanielIf the human-animal bond fascinates you, as it does me, you will want to read How to Speak Dog.  Although I have lived with dogs for years, this book has educated me on how many communication signals I have been missing from my canine companions.

As I child, I used to speak of my worries, woes and dreams to my dog.  I felt sure he understood every word, and I was confident I knew what he was thinking, too.  Even now, I will talk to my dogs, and it makes me laugh to see them cock their heads from side to side when I use the words they know and love:  “treat,” “walk,” and “ride in the car.”

It turns out, there’s much more to dog communication than that.  Dogs communicate with each other—and with us, if we only knew how to understand them—in a much deeper way.

Coren, a professor of psychology,  explores how our body language is read by dogs, what dogs are trying to communicate to us through their body language, how they speak to us using face, ear, eye and tail, and even the meanings of the many and varied vocalizations our dogs make.  After reading his chapter, “The Dog Speaks,” I found I was more aware of my dogs’ different barks and whines and was able to understand and respond in accordance.  It has led to our having a more fluid “conversation.”

I find communication and language deeply interesting, and the topic of animal communication, is compelling to me.  We assume that animals do not have the intelligence or ability to speak; but what if we are simply unable to understand their way of speaking?  Animals may be much more expressive than we give them credit for.poodle 

Indeed, Coren points out that dogs understand our language (both verbal and non-verbal) much better than we understand theirs.  This is because domesticated dogs have needed to study us and learn our ways for their own survival.

Coren describes interactions between dogs and people, dogs and cats, and dogs and other dogs, that I have seen dozens of times, but never saw with meaning.  What I saw as “cute” or random behavior was actually clear communication, as clear as a conversation between people.  This is a book that opens a readers’ eyes to the world as dogs might see it.

staffieThere is more to our dogs, their minds and their messages, than we suspect.  Reading How to Speak Dog, I felt as though I have been living with people who speak a language I do not understand, and have egocentrically assumed that if it wasn’t English, it wasn’t communication at all.

Coren suggests that we can mimic some of the “language” dogs use with each other, so that we can better communicate with our canine friends.  I’ve tried some of this with my pack.  They seem a little surprised.  I like that.  It’s good to keep them guessing.