Wags and barks speak volumes when it comes to understanding what a dog is saying, but there are also clues in a dog’s eyes, ears and nose, and in the tilt of its head. Are humans getting the right messages?
Gary Weitzman, a veterinarian and former head of the Washington Animal Rescue League, has worked with tens of thousands of stray dogs over the past 25 years and says there is no question that pets and people communicate, but some are getting more out of it than others.
“Dogs want to be with us, and they want to do the right thing. Nothing is ever done by a dog for spite or revenge. That’s a human quality,” Weitzman said. “Dogs just want to please us. So don’t misunderstand what dogs are saying.”
Weitzman’s book, “How to Speak Dog,” was just released by National Geographic, and the veterinarian says he hopes it will help people better grasp what their dogs are saying so they can respond in better ways. The book — which is filled with colorful photos — includes chapters on dogs’ expressions, tail wagging, barking and sniffing.
When man first meets mutt, it is up to the person to eliminate any fear. In the exam room, Weitzman said, he will often get on the floor with a dog to reduce any sense of threat.
Being on the floor has certainly worked for 1-year-old Van Leifer-Nau of San Diego, California. That’s where he sits, sleeps, plays and dotes on Neiko, a year-old yellow lab and Saluki mix, said his mom, Tamara Leifer-Nau.
“Neiko loves this baby; it’s like Van is his baby,” Leifer-Nau said. “They love each other, and Neiko goes in for as many kisses as he can get. They are inseparable. They are communicating at a completely different level.”
“Dogs read lips and body language. They can see your facial expression. Some animals respond to how we look, not what we say,” Weitzman said.
The other dog in the Leifer-Nau house is Oakley, a border collie mix the family rescued 13 years ago. He goes to the door and literally talks dog when he wants out, Leifer-Nau said.
“Every once in a while, a dog will come along that just seems to ‘get’ you. You think it even reads your mind,” Weitzman said. “I really think these animals are soul mates. I had a dog I know was my soul mate. I understood her with a look, and she understood me with a look back.”
Cambria Hankin of Los Angeles treats Buddy, Stitch and Riah, her three Chihuahua mixes, as though they were her children.
Buddy is the stubborn one. “You might have to stare at him when he puts his foot down,” Hankin said. It usually happens when Buddy doesn’t want to leave a place they are visiting. “I have to say, ‘Don’t make me count to three.’ When I get to three, he knows his time is up. So I know they understand me,” she said.
She might use baby talk to ask: “Who is mama’s favorite boy?”
Buddy knows that answer, too.
“They are like kids. They just can’t talk in words,” she said. “But they know how to push the limits to see how far they can go.”