Speaking Dog

what-if-i-never-find-out-whos-a-good-boy-pugWhen it comes to dogs and cats, I come down solidly on the dog side.  I like the fact that they actually seem to like us, and not just when it’s time to get fed. I enjoy the companionship and when my husband isn’t home I like knowing that if an ax murderer is hiding in my house, Lexie will at least bark. I don’t kid myself that there will be any doggy heroics…I’ll still get slaughtered but at least I’ll be forewarned. And I’m pretty sure she’d get in a good bite or two first. That means something, right?

I’ve told my husband for years that he needs to learn to differentiate between her barks, but he has shown no interest in learning to speak dog.  In the evening she’ll bark and he’ll remind me that it’s my turn to let her out. I don’t move. “That’s not an ‘I want to go outside bark'”, I inform him. “That’s an ‘I want a treat bark’, and she’s already had one treat this evening.’ He thinks I’m just shirking but when he goes out to the kitchen, guess what? She’s sitting by the treat cupboard. I’m telling you, dogs have a language if we just take the time to learn it.

Here’s a picture of Lexie, my hideously expensive and hilariously lazy Polish Lowland Sheepdog. This was taken a couple of years ago and totally looked posed.  But I just snapped it when she was already lying in front of the tree, stuffed, because she’d just finished eating the last of the candy canes off it, wrappers and all.


I always told myself she had a rather sheepish (ha) look on her face.  Caught red-pawed, so-to-speak.  But according to behaviorist Stanley Coren’s “What is Your Dog Thinking?” article, dogs can’t feel guilt, much less sheepishness.

Coren’s article purports to be ‘a psychological guide to your dog’s dreams, emotions and interests.’  And according to him, dogs are capable of feeling some emotions, because they have the same brain structures and hormones that produce emotions in people, and undergo the same chemical changes we do in emotional states.  They even produce the chemical that is affiliated with love and affection in humans.  We always knew those wet sloppy kisses meant they loved us, right?

But Coren cautions that a doggy mind is commensurate with that of a 2 1/2 year old human, and since toddlers aren’t capable of the more complex emotions neither are our canine friends.  So, while a dog can experience joy, disgust, fear, anger, excitement, distress and yes, even love, they aren’t capable of feeling guilt, contempt, pride and shame.

Yes, hard to believe, isn’t it?  If you have a dog you have undoubtedly come home to a mess on the carpet at some point and fixed the pet with a stern look.  “What’d you do???”  And the furry poop-machine refuses to meet your eye and slinks away to a quiet corner until the hoopla is over.  If that’s not guilt, what is it?

According to the article’s author, that’s fear of punishment.  The dog has learned to equate the mess to getting in big doggy trouble and knows it just might be in for it.

Other fun facts:  small dogs dream more than large dogs do and if they look at you with slightly opened jaws to reveal the tongue lapping over his front teeth, it’s actually smiling at you.  The mouth will close when it feels stress or anxiety.

And get this:  Dogs are capable of laughing and often do when they are playing!  It begins with the smile but also includes a sound that is much like panting.  If you learn to produce dog laughter correctly, it’ll make your dog sit up, wag its tail and laugh with you.

Just in case you have a desire to acquire this talent, I’ve included a video on how to laugh like a dog.  You’re welcome in advance <g>

So are you a dog person?  Do you have a story about your beloved canine?  Or do you gravitate to other types of pets?

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39 Responses to Speaking Dog

  1. Cute video. I love dogs. But I have 2 cats. One of them, Bernie, loves me. I know this because when I come home, he waits for me to open the door of the car and then half climbs in, purring, until I pet him.

    • kylie brant says:

      Judy I just want a pet who acknowledges that I’m there, LOL. I always said the kids would step over my dead body for a week before they thought to ask, hey how come no one’s been making supper lately, LOL.

  2. bellwriter says:

    LOL I love this post! But how on earth can a man prove that a dog can’t feel sheepishness much less guilt. Obviously he never saw Buscuit Eater, which made me cry and cry. 🙂 Love the treat bark vs. the go out bark. Adorable post, Kylie!

    • kylie brant says:

      Donnell, I assume he’s inferencing this because if the dog has the intelligence level of a 2 year old, it can only be capable of 2 year old emotions. OTH I’m not convinced that 2 year olds don’t feel guilt or shame!

  3. Kathleen O says:

    I don’t have any pets, But I do love dogs. My brother has a golden Lab and my cousin one too.. I love both of my furry niece and nephew as I refer to them….

  4. Eve Gaddy says:

    Love the blog! I have had a number of dogs, all with uh, interesting, personalities. My Golden Retriever is deathly afraid of storms and loud noises. We first discovered this when we came home and couldn’t find him. After looking everywhere, we discovered he’d locked himself in the attic! His favorite place to lock himself in is my bathroom.:) Oh, he’s also afraid of pillows!

    • kylie brant says:

      LOL, Evie, he’s got the fear down 🙂 Pillows though…that’s interesting. They do have such distinct personalities. One son’s lab mix has separation anxiety and is on puppy Prozac. Oh my.

  5. michelehauf says:

    Dogs? Nope. Cats. Yes. My Swell Cat talks to me all the time and we can communicate with a look. He’s my buddy. My familiar. But I do believe all animals are trying to communicate with us, we just need to learn to speak their language.

    • kylie brant says:

      He’s my familiar–love this and can totally see that connection between you and Swell Cat. My sister has five cats…I could may be do one but five? Nope. But couldn’t do five dogs either!

  6. Thank you for making my day, Kylie. I am SUCH a dog person. We woke up this morning to a few inches of Beauty’s (my black Lab plus a little something–Dobie?–rescue and best friend) favorite fluffy stuff. She was dying to get out to the bus stop, and she spent the next hour telling the girls to hurry up. Of course she talks! And she listens better than anyone else in the house. “I don’t feel like throwing the ball, Beauty. Take it to ___” And she finds that person. No kidding. “Go to bed.” She does it. No matter what time it is, she’ll go back to the girls’ room and settle in. Will the girls do that so promptly? Dream on!

  7. I love cats. I really do. BUT we own dogs. And yes, they talk AND they know time. Tell me your dogs doesn’t start in on you about dinner time! and I take my border collie to “Big Dog Play Time” at the local dog park. It starts at 4:00 She starts bugging me to get up and get ready to go about 3:30. By 4:00, she’s beside herself as though…everybody else is already there, mom! They’re playing without me.

    And do not use the words “Big Dog Play Time”! It sends her into a running frenzy.

    oh and yes, both of my dogs are spoiled rotten. In mean, isn’t that point of having pets?

    One more thing…Love you comment about the serial killer and the dog letting you know about him being in your house before you’re murdered. Yep. I so get that!

    • kylie brant says:

      Cynthia, I totally agree about time-telling. Sure my dog can equate me walking in the door after work to being time to be fed. But how does she know what time is bedtime each night to start herding us upstairs?

  8. loisgreiman says:

    Thanks for the smiles, Kylie. I consider myself a dog person too, but I’m fresh out of canine friends so have bonded with my cat…who does love me. He’ll meow at the bottom of the steps until I settle in in front of my desk so we can cuddle. Ahhhh.

  9. Trish Jensen says:

    Hmmm, I must disagree about dogs not feeling guilt. I’ve tripped over my black lab in the dark of night several times, hurting myself several times. And every time she immediately tries to cuddle in a definite, “I’m sorry mommy!” way. And she also turns into nurse mode, trying to help me gimp around the house. A couple of times she’s taken hold of my pajama shirt to try to help me get up. Oh, but wait. She then tries to lead me to the pantry where I keep her treats. Never mind.

  10. Quilt Lady says:

    We really don’t have any pets except fish. I do like dogs and cats though just don’t really have the time to take care of them.

  11. Let me say…it’s 10 minutes until Big Dog Play Time. My border collie is not sitting beside me, STARING as hard as she can at me. Think she’s not telling me something? LOL

    • kylie brant says:

      I think we need to add an article or two to that article! It’s like when we have to spell C-A-R or R-I-D-E at our house to prevent the dog from running to the door to go with us!

  12. I practiced dog laughing! Will try it out next time my Hank laughs out loud. I am totally a dog person but do love our cat Goblin. Hank is not the sharpest tool in the shed and she often provokes him to chase her…then we yell at him to knock it off and he looks (yes) guilty while she looks smug.

  13. kylie brant says:

    Christie, those photos on Facebook where they always have the cat talking like a 2 year old with a speech impediment? I always picture them talking like the baby on Family Guy, lol. Sort of like a mad scientist with a British accent. Goblin totally manipulates the events and sets poor Hank up, you just know it!

  14. Cindy Gerard says:

    Fun post, Kylie! I’ve always been a dog person but since our 2 cats squatted in our house 7 years ago and stayed, I’m just amazed how much I’ve come to love and enjoy them. Now I have to go practice dog laughing LOL

  15. Nicole says:

    I just love dogs, they’re so much fun. Our dog is a border collie mix. She was 2 years old when we adopted her. She was brought to the shelter with a broken leg and they had to amputate it. However she can go up and down the stair, jump, run, she is fast. She doesn’t walk; she hop. The greeting she gives me when I come back home, like I’m the most wonderful person in the world, so worth it. 🙂

    • Kylie Brant says:

      Awww… 😦 Poor thing. Doesn’t sound like it slows her down much, though, does it? We used to get greeted at the door like that when we had toddlers but now it’s sort of nice that at least someone in house cares that we’re home 🙂

  16. leannebanks says:

    I loved this!!!! Also love your sweet dog! I’m going to try “laughing” with my dog!lol

  17. Kylie Brant says:

    I sent this to a daughter in law and she and my son tried it with their dog. Veyda just looked worried, LOL so they must not have gotten it right!

  18. Sorry I missed this yesterday… Love it! Who knew? We’re a mixed family of both cats and dogs. Will have to try dog laughing. The cat will roll her eyes and think it’s ridiculous.

  19. I totally loved your post, since our kids are grown and our daily lives now revolve around our dog. 🙂 I had him listen to the video of instruction on dog laughing, but he wasn’t impressed. Then again, maybe he thought a dog was laughing at him, and he was trying to pretend he didn’t hear it. 🙂

  20. Nora Braun says:

    Dogs definitely show guilt and compassion as well. I’ve had golden retrievers forever and remember well how my Jake would sit with his head on my lap when I was struggling with depression. Once when my writer group was over, we temporarily moved from the living room (where various snacks were set on the coffee table) into my kitchen to celebrate a birthday when several of us had the thought at the same time — jake wasn’t with us! I yelled for him and he came around the corner with a loaf of pound cake hanging out of his mouth. Sheepish and guilty?? You bet!

    • Kylie Brant says:

      And yet…we have the infamous instance of Christmas Eve 2009. The kids’ dogs were home (not by invitation) and while we were at Christmas Eve mass they all managed to eat two pans of cheesy potatoes. Not a guilty look in the bunch! Bunch of doggy sociopaths 🙂

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