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There’s a Border Collie in the US with a rare, enormous vocabulary of 1 022 words. Your pup probably can’t come anywhere near that – and you’re part of the problem.
“We talk to ourselves, we talk to other people and occasionally we turn and talk to the dog,” says Dr Clive Wynne, who runs the University of Florida’s canine cognition and behaviour lab. “That much talk is not to the dog’s benefit; it’s just babble.”
So don’t worry about words. Body language will suffice – that’s your dog’s native tongue anyway. But to make the pooch understand, you have to know what you’re doing.
Send the right message
Dogs are great at reading human emotions – but when you try to communicate using all that exaggerated body language (and all the needless baby talk), you might end up saying the wrong things. Instead, move in a way your pup understands. Here’s our guide.
The pup isn’t always going wide-mouthed because it’s bored or tired. A yawn is its calming gesture; it senses anxiety or conflict from you and wants to help.
Use it: Dog freaked by thunder? Pet it and let out a big, helpful yawn
The dog’s not ignoring you. Turning away is how it copes if it’s confused or frustrated
– like when you pretend to check your phone to avoid someone.
Use: it If you need your dog to vamoose, turn away and stare; it’ll leave you to sort things out.
A dog doesn’t just bare its teeth to show off weaponry. When paired with squinty eyes, laid-back ears and low, rapid tail wags, the grin is submissive.
Use it: When petting a new dog, pair a soft smile with squinty eyes to say, “Friend”.
And then it’s probably also good to know…
How upset is that dog?
Dog: Tail up (still or slow wag); ears up and forwards; mouth closed; may hold breath.
You: Look away, blink, yawn and move slowly and in a relaxed manner to show you’re not dangerous.
Dog: Tail high; ears forwards; strong eye contact; head low; weight forwards.
You: Turn your shoulder towards the dog, look down and move away slowly, partially facing the dog as you go.
Dog: Tail tucked under; back arched; squints or blinks a lot; body curved away in a C-shape; might lick lips or yawn.
You: No petting. Yawn and look at the ground to help calm the dog.
Dog: Hair on end; tail tucked under the belly; teeth bared; crouching slightly.
You: Move slowly in a C-shaped path away from the dog. (They read curved actions as non-confrontational.)