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Whatcha Talkin ‘bout, Buckley?

dog communicationIt is a very different world when seen through the eyes of our pets. It is part of the human animal bond which we are so fascinated by. We attempt to understand what motivates our pet which seems to revolve around food, affection, freedom or fun. We are proud when we figure these items out but we still find ourselves perplexed and asking what is my dog or cat trying to tell me?

We’ve been working on our communication with animals for more than 100,000 years. The challenges we experience in our community may come from the fact that we simply don’t take the time to hone our own communication skills as pet owners. Most trainers will agree that, like all relationships, we have to ask how good of job we are doing at clearly expressing what we want in a way that can be understood by our pets.   Perhaps we were better in our communication with animals prior to the more advanced domestication in the last several years that have resulted in an explosion of pet ownership.

About 30,000 years ago when European cave men were sitting around the fire with their newly acquired dog, they were probably getting along well. Their relationship was straight forward, based on the finding food, alarm, herding, hunting, and companionship. All was well, until metaphorically speaking the cave man said “you know I think I might like a condo and a office job some day” and the dog may have cocked his head sideways at this. Could he smell that the future promised many changes to the relationship including house training, leashes, cohabitation with cats, clothing and even neutering?

Most of the pet owning world seems to be constantly trying to understand their pets and give them what they need in part, because while we give a lot to our pets but we ask a lot too. We put them into situations which they are dependent on us for their needs to be met and this is where the challenge and fun begins. Every pet has their signals or system for communicating which we all hope we’ve tuned in to at least enough to save our carpet now that we’ve upgraded from the cave. My own dog, a Frenchie named Buckley, is stubborn and subtle in her communication.

To tell you she needs something, she sits near you quietly at first and waits (maybe dogs developed telepathy in the last 30,000 and I haven’t caught up). If I don’t notice or guess that she needs something, she will begin to “grimble.” It’s not a grumble or a growl, its this low Spielberg-style Velociraptor. She soon adds bucking backwards on her hind legs. (We caught her in the act with our web programmer Joel in this video , but the audio didn't pick up the grimble.) When I look at her, she looks away from me. If I don’t start trying things to figure out what she wants, the grimble will turn into barking, which I prefer to avoid in the office. I try food, if that’s wrong the grimble process begins again. If it’s a potty break that is needed and thank god she tries to tell me now, I ask “potty?”  She does a little “giddy up” and she makes for the nearest exist.

Sometimes she wants to play with her, if I indulge her it is usually accompanied by loss of respect from co-workers. But that’s life now that we’ve gone from cave to prairie to farm to neighborhood to office cubicles. This communication system is vague and pride-swallowing for me, but workable and mildly entertaining. There are still demands she makes that I can’t figure out. Everyday at PetSafe we work to develop products that help pets and owners understand each other better and its part of the journey we are on with our pets as a civilization.  

Buckley remains persistent in trying to tell me something and for the life of me I have no idea what it is but at least I’m trying to understand and we seem to get a little better at it everyday. It is this area of ambiguity that causes me to cock my own heads to one side and look at my dog curiously. Maybe it’s in this place of openness to our pets that we enjoy them the most, the place where we are trying to understand each other and how we need each other. It is this that is ultimately what the human animal bond is based on.

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