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    A short guide on how dogs communicate

    Articlegeneral dog adviceMonday 15 April 2013

    Ever since humans have domesticated the dog we have chosen to communicate to them in our preferred manner; speech. Just how much does a dog understand though when you talk with it? What is the maximum limit of communication you can reach with a dog so they understand.Furthermore do they really understand what we are saying? In this guide we will take a look in depth at the overall idea of communication and dogs.

    There was a dog called Rico (1994-2008) who was a collie. His owners realised that this dog had an unusual ability to understand words and after a while they took him to a animal psychologist who after thorough tests reported that he understand up to 200 words which is an incredible amount for a dog. 
    This record is said to have been beaten however as Discovery report “Chaser, another border collie, displayed knowledge of a whopping 1,022 words. Chaser's owner, John W. Pilley, is a psychologist at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Pilley began training Chaser in 2004, teaching her the names of up to two toys each day. Over a three-year period, Chaser built immense vocabulary skills, while sporting a hefty toy collection. Chaser's feats were published in a study in the Behavioural Processes Journal in February 2011.” This puts it on a similar level to a human toddler. Most dogs, probably yours, however don’t have this natural level of comprehension.
    When you speak to your dog you have probably noticed that they understand the very basic commands. For example if you trained your dog then he will probably sit when you say “sit”. He may wag his tail when you say “walkies” and he may jump if you say “jump”. Whether they understand what you say and are following a command or if it is simply a reaction is of course debatable. It is said that the average dog understands ~165 words which can increase if you train them diligently.
    It has been said that it is better to use sharp words when training your dog. Words like –walk- which are short and to the point are easier to master than for example –exercise- which has the same purpose. It is said that dogs listen most of all to the first syllable rather than the whole word which would help explain this.
    If you wish to train your dog new words then you have to remember consistency is the key. If you tell him "dinner" is ready but your partner calls it "food" then understandably things become a little fuzzy as what the dog understands the word for it's meal is. If your whole family refer to the word as dinner then your dog should understand a lot faster.
    It is believed however that dogs only understand basic functions of such words you teach them. When you say "lead" to them they understand it is this piece of rope that gets attached to their neck. They almost certainly do not understand it’s purpose is to stop them running away. They are also likely to associate with going for a walk and will automatically link the two together. Dogs are nautally pretty quick when learning words that are to do with food, playing or going for a walk….!
    What is crucial though when speaking to a dog is not just the word but the volume and the manner you say it. If you say “bad boy” in the same way you would say “Who’s a good boy” the dog is most likely to interpret it as praise.
    Dogs of course communicate with each other in a much different way than the standard human-canine method of speech. As they say when humans communicate body language is more important than what it being said, for a dog it is vital. Other methods of communication include pheromone clues and the situation the dog is in. For example they are more likely to be friendly with other dogs while walking in a park than while having their dinner.
    The most powerful method of communication arguably is however via the bottom. It is said that a pungent musk from a dog’s rear end contains important information about the dog. At least that is what scientists say about the issue and of course explains the phenomenon of why they are so interested in other’s backsides.
    Photo: Zia Lee
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