Excerpt 2: Body Language
I don't know a dog owner who doesn't admit to talking to their dog, but how many words of a human language can our dogs understand?
The answer probably depends on the dog. Rico, the German Border collie proved that he knew the names of over 200 objects. Other studies have confirmed that dogs can understand some words of human language. Many of us have to spell out in a whisper, "I am g-o-i-n-g for a r-i-d-e in the c-a-r" lest we find Fido already buckled into the passenger's seat.
So, we already know that our dogs understand some of our words, but people often notice that the tone in which a word is said seems to have more impact on our dogs than the word itself. This is most certainly true. No matter how smart dogs are, human speech just isn't their thing. The tone in which words are spoken takes on a greater meaning, just as it would if we were in a foreign country and didn't speak the language.
Ask any dog trainer and he will tell you it's far easier to teach a dog a behavior using a hand signal than using a spoken word. Why? Dogs can easily read our body language. For centuries, dogs have been carefully watching people in order to understand and anticipate their movements. This close scrutiny most likely started in an effort to get the most food, avoid danger, and ensure that they stayed on humans' good side.
Evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare speculates that the ability to read human body language was one of the traits selected when dogs were being domesticated. In other words, dogs that were better at reading people were more likely to be nurtured by humans and, therefore, have the opportunity to successfully reproduce.
Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Arnold
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