Even though I’m the one with a bachelor’s degree in communication, the stellar communicators in my family are a pair of rescued mutts who answer to the names of Chipper and Cleo. Their “talk” is always clear and consistent — whether they are communicating with me, each other, their canine pals or even their feline housemates, Zeki and Murphy. Often, Chipper and Cleo can convey their message without uttering a single sound. Their messages are delivered by their postures, tail positions, tail movements, eyes, expressions, actions and much more. For example, when Chipper turns her head and air snaps, then plops down with her rear end hoisted in the air, I know that she is ready for a friendly game of tug-of-war. When Cleo starts to pant and jumps in my lap, I know that she needs to relieve her bladder outside — and pronto. As a pet behavior consultant, I travel all over North America to help people better understand why their dogs — and cats — do what they do in order to restore harmony in households. I’ve learned to speak dog and yes, even cat. For the past dozen years, I’ve studied and interpreted communication from dogs of all ages, sizes, breeds and attitudes. It brought me to creating my latest — and 24th — pet book, aptly called, What Dogs Want: A Visual Guide to Understanding Your Dog’s Every Move. The book is being distributed worldwide and will be released in the United States in September, but I wanted to give South Floridians a sneak peek into its pages and to award an autographed copy to the 24th person who emails me (Arden@fourleggedlife.com) with the code words “What Dogs Want.” The book offers a visual guide that decodes 100 postures, expressions, sounds and actions exhibited by dogs. It also identifies some possible underlying medical reasons and provides the best ways to respond. A sampling: Why dogs expose their bellies: Most often, dogs strike this pose to garner love, attention and maybe a little help to scratch a hard-to-reach itch. But check the whole canine package first before bending down to offer a belly rub. Beware of dogs who make direct, hard stares and have tense bodies. They are not relaxed dogs waiting for TLC; they are purposely exposing their bellies to lure you closer and to demonstrate dominance by growling or snapping. For these dogs, I recommend re-schooling them in the basic cues of “sit” and “watch me” to demote their status below you and your family members. Why some dogs tilt their heads: Dogs tend to reserve head tilts for the person who is right in front of them, especially if that person says the magic word, treat. But some dogs also tilt their heads to attempt to tune into a strange sound or are suffering from medical issues such as ear infections or infestation of ear mites. For dogs that cock their head to garner attention, add this action in your dog’s repertoire of tricks to delight your friends. But persistent tilting and pawing of the ear may signal an infection that needs veterinary care. Why some dogs gut stuffed toys: Despite being pampered in homes, dogs have never lost their hunting instinct. Lacking access to real prey, dogs stalk and “kill” pretend prey — plush toys. Terrier, sporting and hunting breeds lead the pack when it comes to gutting stuffed toys. But in a dog’s haste to gut a toy, he may swallow the squeaker or stuffing, which can cause stomach or small intestinal blockages and require surgery. Take your dog to a vet if he seems to have abdominal pain, drools, acts lethargic or is vomiting. You can make this plush toy last longer by wrapping it in an old T-shirt and tying the ends off. Or introduce your dog to more durable toys, such as hollow, hard rubber ones that you can fill with kibble or smear with peanut butter. My quest is to help bridge the communication gap between you and your dog. Paw through the pages of What Dogs Want, and you will not only learn why your dog is acting or vocalizing in a specific manner, but you will also discover what you can do in response to bring out his best behavior and health. Chipper and Cleo never earned a college degree in communication. They didn’t need one. They are born communicators who have joyfully helped me hone my communication skills to share with you.
Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and certified pet first aid instructor. She happily shares her home with two dogs, two cats and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her Oh Behave! show on Pet Life Radio.com and learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.