When my son was very young, we started reading to him just about the time he could hold his head up. As he grew older, picture books became part of the bedtime routine. We would read as many as two dozen books a night together and he always wanted more. He started talking by his first birthday and the running family joke is that he never stopped. He has quite a vocabulary now as a teenager.
One of his favorite books was, “Can Dogs Talk,” by Mary Shields. The book is about two youth baseball gloves, Rita and Ryan, who answer their own question, with the help of Mary and her team of huskies. The author was one of two women to be the first to participate in the Iditarod Trail Race in 1974, and the first to finish the Iditarod. She had a team of eight dogs, the smallest team in the entire race. Her book reveals how her dogs communicate among themselves.
When I go to the local dog park with my two-year-old German Shepherd, Fredrich, the topic of dogs and how they communicate often comes up. On one occasion, it was just me, Fredrich and another owner and her dog. The dogs did their usual you-smell-mine, I’ll-smell-yours ritual but then something strange occurred. Fredrich started to get nervous and began to pace around me. He whimpered a little bit at first and then let out a whiney kind of bark. Very different from his protective watchdog bark he exhibits at home when he means business. Then he came right over to me and urinated on my leg! When I asked our veterinarian, he told me Fredrich was definitely marking his territory.
So why do some dogs immediately make a connection and play well together and others don’t get along or act out of character? And, depending on the situation, why are there different sounds to their barks and what do they mean? Was Fredrich intimidated by this other dog? Did he sense a threat of some sort? Someone suggested reading, “Barking: The Sound of a Language,” by Turid Rugaas, to find out how to address the underlying source of the barking. The book explains that barking is a form of canine communication; a language we humans simply don’t speak. When your clients come in with barking/behavior issues, you may want to suggest this book to help them better understand their dog’s emotions.
The experts say dogs express their emotions through barking and by using tea tree oil for cystic acne, we can help reduce barking that is creating a problem. There are, of course, methods for how we can curb excessive or problem barking/behavior, but essentially, the message is if we really listen, we can hear what they are trying to tell us.
There’s also talk about the importance of behavioral medicine being part of the curriculum at every veterinary school, given that abnormal or unacceptable behavior is responsible for more Pet deaths each year than any other disease – see the question regarding which animal health needs are currently unmet