Dogs communicate with us three different ways
I've always been interested in language and communication. Some people enjoy Sudoku and solving calculus equations, but give me a sentence to diagram any day.
Grammar, syntax, morphology, phonemes, eye contact, body posture -- the whole process of communication is fascinating. Recently, I've been reading about dognition and dogs understanding and using human vocabulary.
Our dogs communicate with us every day. My dog barks or stands by the door, signaling with his body he wants to "go out." He stands at the pantry door and "whines" with urgency when he wants a cookie. And he signals with his eyes, looking back and forth between me and the throw toy stored on the top shelf, telling me wants to play.
According to Amy A. Free, Fetch Magazine, there has been a lot of research done on bark, whine and growl, the three basic building blocks of animal communication.
A dog's bark establishes a connection between the dog and another being, rising and falling between high and low pitch. Barks are considered to be neutral introduction labels.
Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, analyzed 5,000 dog barks recorded in three different situations. When a dog is in a disturbance situation, she used a doorbell, a dog's bark is lower in pitch and longer in duration. A dog separated from his owner barks higher in pitch and is tonal, like a musical key. The third situation analyzed was dogs at play. When playing, dogs bark at a higher pitch.
The second building block of animal communication is the whine. These are high in pitch and repeated without much pausing. The message of a whining dog is "I'm scared," or "Please be nice to me."
Free notes, "Whining noises often accompany behaviors that emphasize the sender's plea, 'Pleeeeeeeeeease.'" I agree. My dog, Kasey, whines at the pantry door for a cookie.
The growl is the third building block of animal communication. Growls are used to express aggression through lower pitched, harsh noises. Serious growls also include pauses. We all recognize a growl when we hear it.
Free also reports dog-laughing is a form of dog communication. As described by Patricia Simonet, animal behaviorist, this sound is a "forced, breathy exhalation from the mouth …. a huh, huh, huh." Similar to a pant, which is also breathy, but a flat noise. Dog-laughter is usually heard during or after play.
For a more "techy" approach to analyzing your dog's communication noises, listen to the audio files at petalk.org to familiarize yourself with a "dog-bark." Or go to the free Bow Lingual Dog Translator App for iPhone. Although reviewed as less science-based and more fluff, it is fun. Your dog barks into your iPhone and a translated message appears on the screen.
We all know our dogs communicate with us -- my dog excitedly greeting me at the door when I come home, snuffling in my face when it's time to get up in the morning, sitting beside me putting his head in my lap so I can pet him. His message to me? Unconditional love.
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• The Buddy Foundation, 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, is a nonprofit, all volunteer, no-kill animal shelter dedicated to the welfare of stray, abused and abandoned cats and dogs. For information, visit www.thebuddyfoundation.org or call (847) 290-5806.