Sunday, June 7, 2009

Book Review - How to Speak Dog

If you remember watching Rin Tin Tin or Lassie when you were young, you've probably found yourself wishing that you could converse with your dog like they do on TV and in the movies. Well, unfortunately, that kind of communication just doesn't happen - but Stanley Coren's How to Speak Dog might help you get closer to that point than you thought possible.

It's amazing just how much dogs communicate to us. It's even more staggering how much of that we misinterpret, or just don't notice at all. For instance, "dog kisses" (when they lick your face or hand) can mean several things, ranging from "You're a swell pack leader, chief!" to "I'm hungry!" to "I reeeeeally gotta' use the bathroom." A bark can have a multitude of meanings, from "Intruders are nearby!" to "Let's play!" Even something as subtle as a shifting of the ears or tail can have meaning in a dog's language.

Mr. Coren looks at all of these interplaying signals and vocalizations with the keen eye of a behavioral psychologist, the writing skill of a seasoned author, and the empathy of a dog owner. The first part of the book deals mainly with how we communicate with dogs - what they hear, what they understand, and how they interpret it. Then Coren turns things around, looking at how dogs communicate with us. Dogs have limited vocal ability, so their 'language' has expanded to incorporate body language, scents, and sounds. He even looks at the differences between the visual signals of dogs and cats, giving new insight into what seems an age-old rivalry.

I think this is a great book for anyone who owns or works with dogs - doubly so for folks who deal with unfamiliar ones. It's certainly given me a lot to think about and consider, especially when it comes to understanding what
I might be inadvertantly saying to a dog. A little mindful awareness can often diffuse an awkward - and even potentially dangerous - misunderstanding.

How to Speak Dog
by Stanley Coren
Published by Simon & Schuster / Free Press $14.00
ISBN 978074320297

1 comment:

Shelter Diaries said...

It really is amazing the difference this book has made in how I communicate with dogs. By way of illustration, I happened across what someone had described as a "vicious" dog the other night while out walking. He whined, barked repeatedly, and began slowly moving toward me - only to stop when I calmly crouched down and gave him my best "I'm not here for fighting" attitude. Giving me a smile and a wag of his tail, he calmly (and submissively) approached and started licking my hand, with the "I want" whine that my puppy is so adept at. It turned out that the "vicious" 4-month old had just wandered a block too far from home, and needed a grown-up to help him look for it.