Feb 19, 2015

How to Speak Dog

by Stanley Coren

I've read many books before that describe the communication methods used by dogs, and how people can successfully interact with them. But none with this level of depth, detail and comprehension. Coren very systematically looks at the "language" of dogs- how well they understand spoken human words and human gestures, or can be trained to do so. What the wide variety of sounds they make specifically mean, plus all the different uses of body language, and the combinations thereof- which can vary meaning and nuance more than I had realized. How cross-communication works, why cats and dogs are classic enemies (many of their basic body signals mean opposite things). How dogs communicate with scent (hilarious story in here about a man who tried urinating around his wife's flower bed to deter neighborhood dogs from digging in it). He uses scientific studies, personal observations and carefully examined anecdotes to demonstrate the discussed communications (or miscommunications, as it were). Even points out why some methods used by humans to dominate their dogs, or teach them who's "leader of the pack" such as flipping a dog forcefully on its back or biting it on the nose (!) are misguided and won't get the result you want. Through it all there are interesting passages on the evolution of dogs, comparison of dogs to wolves, comparison of dog intelligence to that of children (about equal to a two-year-old's, although their concerns with social status and the doings of other dogs are more adult in nature), descriptions of studies on animal intelligence and communication with other species (many familiar names here- Clever Hans, Washoe and Koko, but also new insights and other individuals I had never heard of before).

To sum it all up- yes, dogs have their own form of language. They understand a lot, and can read incredibly subtle body language. When confronted with a fearful or aggressive dog, you can mimic canine gestures to give a dog confidence, or appease a possible attacker. You can use dog langauge to let your dog know you're definitely the boss in the house, but that he's accepted and loved. I was surprised at how many kinds of dog expression are often misunderstood by humans (for example, a dog who leans his body against you is trying to assert dominance- if you move aside, giving way, you've confirmed his higher status. Same with a dog who sleeps on your bed, or demands food from the table, etc). Fascinating stuff. A book I think every dog owner should read.

Rating: 5/5        274 pages, 2000


  1. I've read a fair few dog books too! It sounds as though I should read this one as well though - I'm intrigued about the man weeing in his garden!

  2. Anonymous2/22/2015

    This sounds like a good read. We were surprised when our vet told us that taking a small wee in front of us was a sign of submission, meaning that our dog was just happy to see us when we came home. Taking her outside as soon as we walked in he door broke her of that habit.

  3. Jackie- Yes- he was inspired by reading about Farley Mowat peeing around his tent to mark a boundary against the wolves!

    James- This behavior was mentioned several times in the book- apparently the more fearful a dog is of a dominant person, the more they might pee to greet you at the door. He didn't mention taking it outside right away, but I bet that helps a lot.


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