One of a Special Kind: The Human - Dog Relationship
It seems as if an invisible contract regulates our living together since primitive times. Dogs are committed to take over different functions and responsibilities for humans, which in exchange give them food, water, shelter and care.
Nowadays the dog’s duties lay, among other things, in supporting us humans with guarding, protecting, hunting and defending. They learn to retrieve, scent, guide and locate things & people for us.
Sadly enough this pact has been broken too many times, mainly by humans. The reason for when a dog turns against us, runs away or lets us down is mostly due to that their loyalty has been, and often still is, abused for barbarian purposes.
The Battersea Dogs home receives around 20.000 dogs every year. Many of these animals can be relocated in new families, but the number of those who have to be put down is way bigger.
Even worse fates have those dogs which suffer from aggressive-abusive humans or animal experiments. This should make us humans feel forced to let dogs live as dogs – and nothing else.
We all are able to learn and understand this remarkable species better - it only needs simple observations and behaviour studies. You will soon realise how much your dog can offer you, when you know how to speak and read his language.
In general dogs bark to tell a certain message and to alert their social affinity group. We could translate this as “Attention! Watch out! Something strange is happening!”. In the wild, this brings puppies to hide or run for shelter and prepares the adult animals to collective activities.
As most noises do not identify if the arriving part is friend or enemy, the dog also approaches his owner firstly with loud barking. The either friendly greeting or attack then happens as soon as the arriving part is identified by the dog.
An aggressive dog will usually attack silently & offensively e.g. jumps and bites. Fleeing dogs, however, normally won’t make any noise either.
Therefore vocalisation is more a sign for conflict or frustration. An absolute silent and offensive attack is more uncommon than threat, which’s onset is accompanied by baring teeth and a throatily rumble noise. The dog will pull back his lips and display his teeth canine – a sign of high-grade aggression paired with fear. In this situation the instinct to fighting is always stronger than the impulse for escape.
The next step, which presents an even higher dimension of fear, is growling. A growling dog is probably more frightened than a dog that is baring his teeth, but there is usually still enough aggression present that could fade into an open attack.
Growling and barking will take turns as soon as the fear takes control. Growling will suddenly expand into loud barking, which is repeated several times.
Hereby the dog tries to say “I want to attack you (growling to warn), but I rather get backup first (barking out for others)”.
Therefore the famous saying “Barking dogs never bite” is partially true, as a dog that barks is usually not brave enough to bite immediately and a aggressive dog that bites wont be in need to call out for backup through barking.
A domestic dog will never howl as much as his wild ancestor, the wolf. A simple reason for this is the very different social environment.
Howling is a signal to unite and prepare the pack for a followed group activity e.g. the daily hunt. The main function of howling is therefore to boost the solidarity of the group.
As our fed domesticated dog does not need to round up his pack through howling, he will in this sense literally stay at an eternal puppy stage.
While being left alone for a longer period of time, it is likely that your dog starts to separation howl, which’s essence has the same meaning as the howling of a wolf pack: “I am (we are) here … where are you? … Come to me (us).” A howling dog tries to show his need for contact and propinquity.
Wearing the Tail high & display of Scents
Don’t trust the wrong conclusion that dogs which wag their tail are friendly tempered. The basis of tail wagging is an emotional conflict which in the animal kingdom often is indicated through seesaw movements.
In conflicting situations, animals feel torn between attacking and escaping or between moving to the left or right. The animal will therefore usually freeze in a tensed waiting position while it evaluates the situation.
To interpret this optical signal correctly it has to be examined in context with other identifiable expressions the dog shows.
Adult dogs greet each other by tail wagging, along with other forms of expressions, to signalise their will to approach. The emotional conflict here is the simultaneous enjoyment mixed with tension. The dog will wag with his tail even when he starts a sexual advance, as he feels anticipation as well as fear.
There are different tail positions which can vary from dog to dog. Obedient animals often let their tail hang down in a slightly bent way, whereby aggressive dogs tend to erect their tail stiffly upwards.
Tail wagging is also used for giving access to olfactory signals and therefore used for communication. A dog’s specific and characteristic smell is produced by anal glands. These glands get stimulated by the rhythmic wagging movements and present an important part of a dog’s social life.
This is also what many dogs are mainly interested in sniffing while you take them for walks. Dogs mark their territory by firstly sniffing various places and buildings in a very systematic way. After analysing all chemical scented messages other dogs or animals have left with their faeces, they leave their own mark which usually overpowers the previous odour mark.
When a dog lifts up his leg to mark a certain spot, it is to keep their own scent signal fresh as long as possible, as odour marks further down or on the ground tend to blur faster than marks made at a vertical position. Plus higher marks are easier to find in nose- or mouth-height and are additionally used for territory marking.