One of my readers asked me how I know what my dogs feel and think. There have been a lot of books written on dog/human communication and I’ve read some of them, but the reality is that dogs are very easy to understand.
The first thing is understanding that your dog likes to be with you. Dogs don’t like solitude because they’re pack animals. Some breeds have this trait in a more pronounced degree than others. Siberian huskies, for example, really need to be with at least one other dog — preferably another husky — if they’re going to be happy. This should be obvious if you look at how the breed was developed — it was developed to work in harmony with many other huskies pulling a sled. I’ve known huskies who, compelled to live alone in their yard, left their yard and family and found someone more simpatico with whom to live.
Dogs left alone too much, too long, too often, will tell you of their misery by destroying something. Most people who’ve had a dog, and found training it to be a POA, think two dogs will be twice the POA but often the opposite is true. Bringing home a pal for your well-trained first dog will give your first dog a chance to teach a puppy (something dogs love to do and do naturally) and make your life easier. Chances are you won’t even have to house train the second dog.
Many dog “behavior” problems are dogs talking to you. The smarter the dog, the more statements you’re likely to “see” and sometimes hear. Most dogs (and some not all huskies) understand that their primary duty is taking care of you, the pack leader. They understand very well that their survival is a lot easier with you around. They are truly grateful for a place to live and food to eat. They need the chance to hunt, however, which, in human terms, is going for a walk or something similar. I’ve had many dogs who became very stressed when too many days go by without hunting. I’m sure they are just restless, but I think this restlessness is partly due to their sense that without hunting there’s no food.
Reasoning with a dog is not the same as reasoning with a human, but dogs DO reason. For example, my puppy, Bear, was having a hard time learning “Down, stay down.” She just plain didn’t want to do it. She knew I wanted her to, but. I never engage in a battle of wills with a dog. I know the dog wants to please me and if that dog isn’t pleasing me, I just “go away.” I might not deal with the dog for a little while or I stop attempting to teach a behavior. This is where having more than one dog is very useful — I asked Dusty, “Down, stay down” and rewarded him like crazy and praised him like he was god’s gift to dogs for doing that. I figured 1) Bear may have been too young to get it, or 2) it upset her somehow and I didn’t know why. OK.
A month or so went by without my asking her to “Down, stay down.” One morning, as she was begging for a treat, she looked at me, cocking her head one way then the next (this is a common sign that the dog is thinking) and suddenly she went down and stayed. She knew how; she knew I wanted her to show me that she knew how, she knew it was a thing a good dog would do. That’s just one example of a dog reasoning through something, one of hundreds in my life with dogs.
Dogs tell you they love you in a million ways from demonstrating over-the-moon joy when you come home, putting their head on your lap when they want to show and get affection, curling up to sleep at your foot, looking at you with love in their eyes (yeah, just like people), or just doing what they know you want them to do.
While most dog communication with people (and with each other?) is through actions, I also believe dogs communicate telepathically with each other and with us. I can’t give any hard evidence to prove this (who could?) but there have been moments in the lives of many of my dogs that I’ve seen them “get” something. For example, my Siberian husky male, Cody, understood perfectly that the man I was living with was bad for me and tried a couple of times to break up embraces between the two of us. He’d lived in a home where the husband beat the wife and I think he was tuned in to a certain dynamic between people and recognized it as wrong. Even though there had never been any overt abuse in my relationship with that man, it was not a happy relationship and was certain to escalate if it lasted much long.
Anyway, maybe during the snowy days of the coming winter I’ll write more dog stories. It would make an interesting blog on its own to those who love dogs.