Communication is essentially understanding someone else and putting in the effort to be understood. When we communicate with other people, even when we both speak the same language, we can still be severely misunderstood. We can also misunderstand them.
This is because communication isn’t simply just a few words, it is visual too. In fact, it is more visual, particularly in the first few seconds. When we communicate with other people, we are drawing not only what we see but also what we have learned previously from others.
Human to human communication is largely formed of pre-conceptions and prior learning. Canine communication will also betray the way that a dog has learned to say how he feels to those around him.
There are four types of canine communication:
Growling when guarding a resource is typically an example of auditory communication that is adhered to when uttered. There are however some exceptions to this, some dogs will challenge the growling, guarding animal whilst others have never learned social communication and will blunder in regardless. Different dogs growl at different levels. Some do it a lot and others very little. Growling should always be explored and the reasoning behind it carefully understood, because it is usually the dog trying to get a point across.
Urination is a chemical communication method that dogs can use for many things. This is how they spread their scent, can see who has been around in the area, and of course mark resources as their own via the act of urination itself. A dog can tell a lot from the scent of another animal, sex, age, health and reproductive cycle points are all recognised by the canine nose.
Appeasement behaviour is a very tactile communication method. A dog which displays low body language, muzzle licking and submissive acts towards another animal is being both tactile and submissive, sometimes to the point of being demanding or irritating. Another tactile communication is when a dog comes and touches without prompting.
Posturing when meeting another dog is an example of visual communication. The dog stands tall, tail erect (dependant on breed) and some dogs have the power to push others around simply by adjusting their own posture! This can be due to a few reactions within the dog which range from fear to exhibiting a bullying behaviour.
It’s important to remember that two dogs may communicate in the same way but for very different reasons. A growl could be fear or it could be a direct threat. Barking could be loneliness or defensiveness and body stance will change slightly, dependent on breed and experience.
On a final note, it’s also important to remember that one dog may show fear in a scenario that another dog copes perfectly well with. Just as people have individual areas of confidence so do dogs. Just as humans have fears, so do dogs, which is why it’s vital to see our dogs as the perfect little individual packages that each of them are.