Understanding Your Dog For Dummies book cover

Understanding Your Dog For Dummies

By: Stanley Coren and Sarah Hodgson Published: 05-29-2007

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of getting a dog or nervous about caring for the one you’ve already brought home, now you can relax. Understanding Your Dog for Dummies helps you recognize not only why your dog behaves the way she does, but in a way that enables you to parlay that into a well-behaved companion who listens (and sits, and speaks, and comes, etc.).

Whether your pooch is a mixed breed or purebred, she has a distinct identity that makes her unique. The first step in understanding your dog is to respect the honorable task she was originally bred for and to identify how these inbred impulses influence her personality and behavior. In essence, you need to speak her language if you expect her to learn to understand yours.

Understanding Your Dog for Dummies gives you everything you need to learn to understand your pooch’s unique dialect of “Doglish”—and shows you how to take on the role as pack leader to give your dog the cues, guidance, and consistency she needs to shape and develop good behaviors. Inside you’ll discover how to:

  • Read your dog’s body language
  • Communicate with your dog
  • Interpret your dog’s breed-specific traits
  • Correct dog-behavior-gone-bad
  • Counter anxiety-based behavior
  • Understand and resolve aggressive behavior
  • And so much more!

Think of this book as Doglish 101—a prerequisite for every human member of your dog’s family. Now, let the training begin!

Articles From Understanding Your Dog For Dummies

7 results
7 results
Understanding Your Dog For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-27-2022

Recognizing why and how your dog behaves can help you to take on the role as pack leader to give your dog the cues, guidance, and consistency she needs to shape and develop good behaviors. Understanding your dog's body language and the proper methods of discipline, along with using basic, yet helpful, commands will go a long way in developing your pooch into a well-behaved companion.

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Living with a Blind Dog

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Blind dogs can live comfortably. Some sightles canines take quite a while to even recognize the full limitations of their handicap, since vision usually diminishes progressively and isn't a dog's primary sense. To help your blind dog live happily, take these steps to provide a new map of her living space: Attach short directional word or phrases (such as Sit, Down, Stay, and Come) to daily routines. Verbal cues reassure your dog and help him feel connected to your daily interactions. Your voice will both guide and reassure him. Create landmarks for your dog, keeping daily objects, such as dog bowls and bedding, in the same place. In addition, avoid relocating furniture, TVs, or radios to prevent any disorientation that may result when the dog's mental map is disrupted. Use carpet runners to create a "road" to familiar rooms. Use different scents to map out locations or forbidden areas. For example, you can use scented oils or powders to cue your dog to avoid ledges or locate important places in a room. When you travel, these same scents can comfort and guide him in an otherwise unknown environment. If your dog is distressed at not being able to find you, wear a familiar scent or clip a small bell to your wrist or belt loop. Return objects to where they belong. Things that are left out are opportunities for collisions that may disorient your dog and lead to anxiety or fearfulness. If your dog is an outdoor pet, don't plan major landscape projects. If your dog is disoriented, lead him to a favorite anchoring spot, such as a familiar bed, and pet him calmly until he's settled down. Going up and down stairs is difficult for blind dogs. Install carpeting and chaperone your dog until he feels confident: Hold his midsection gently as you support his weight and/or lead him up each step by luring him with a favorite treat. The most important tool in dealing with a blind dog is the leash. Think of the leash as giving you the ability to hold your dog's hand. Your dog will feel more secure because he knows where you are. Leashing the dog can be helpful even in the house until he gets adjusted. The dog should certainly be walked on the leash because his owner is now his eyes. Feeling socially isolated is a problem with blind dogs just as it is with deaf dogs. Most dogs seem reassured if they know where their owners are. A dog that has been free to roam the house may have to be confined at night. Securing your dog next to your bed at night or using a crate is an ideal solution. Once the dog gets used to the routine and has a mental map of his world, he'll do fine. Many dogs happily go around their homes and live a happy life despite their blindness. In fact, many do it so well that visitors don't even notice that the dog is blind.

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Understanding a Dog's Sense of Smell

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

A dog's nose not only dominates her face, but her brain, as well. In fact, a dog relies on her sense of smell to interpret her world, in much the same way as people depend on their sight. Although this contrasting world view may be hard to imagine, know that your dog interprets as much information as you do. However, she does much of this by smelling an object or animal, not by staring at it. Born to sniff To gain more respect for your dog's olfactory ability, compare it to a person's nose. Inside the nose of both species are bony scroll-shaped plates, called turbinates, over which air passes. A microscopic view of this organ reveals a thick, spongy membrane that contains most of the scent-detecting cells, as well as the nerves that transport information to the brain. In humans, the area containing these odor analyzers is about one square inch, or the size of a postage stamp. If you could unfold this area in a dog, on the other hand, it may be as large as 60 square inches, or just under the size of a piece of typing paper. Though the size of this surface varies with the size and length of the dog's nose, even flat-nosed breeds can detect smells far better than people. The following table shows the number of scent receptors in people and several dog breeds. A dog's brain is also specialized for identifying scents. The percentage of the dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is actually 40 times larger than that of a human! It's been estimated that dogs can identify smells somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than nasally challenged humans can. Table: Scent-Detecting Cells in People and Dog Breeds Species Number of Scent Receptors Humans 5 million Dachshund 125 million Fox Terrier 147 million Beagle 225 million German Shepherd 225 million Bloodhound 300 million Your dog's unique nose Your dog's nose has a pattern of ridges and dimples that, in combination with the outline of its nostril openings, make up a nose print believed to be as individual and unique as a human being's fingerprints. Companies even register nose prints as a way of identifying and helping to locate lost or stolen dogs, a system that is now being used by kennel clubs around the world. If you want to take a nose print from your dog just for fun, it's quite simple: Wipe your dog's nose with a towel to dry its surface. Pour food coloring onto a paper towel and lightly coat your pet's nose with it. Then hold a pad of paper to her nose, making sure to let the pad's sides curve around to pick up impressions from the sides of the nose, as well. You may have to try a couple of times until you get the right amount of food coloring and the right amount of pressure to produce a print in which the little patterns on the nose are clear. The food coloring is nontoxic and is easily removed. Never use ink or paint, or you may have to explain to your friends why your dog has a green or blue nose.

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Reading Your Dog's Body Language

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Your dog is communicating a lot through her body postures and also tuning in to your body language more than you might imagine. Regulating how you hold your posture and recognizing your dog's body language can enable a fluent dialog between the two of you. The figures below illustrate common dog postures. Remember that if your dog is shrunk and low, she's feeling insecure or scared. If her weight is pitched forward, she's confident, on alert, or in defense mode. If her head is hung low, but her body is relaxed, the message is loud and clear: "I'm exhausted!" Common dog postures showing dominance and aggression. Common dog postures showing fear and submission.

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6 Useful Commands for Your Dog

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Though a dog can recognize up to 165 different commands, or words, your goals need not be so lofty. Here are six directions that are most useful for navigating your life together. After you have these directions firmly planted in your dog's memory bank, they form the foundation for controlling your dog's behavior. Their use reassures your dog of her place in your family and her vital inclusion in your world. Word Cue Daily Uses Follow When walking about town or off your property, or to encourage attention in your home Wait-okay To get your dog to stop and check in before entering or exiting your home or new buildings, as well as when you cross the street and approach stairs No (and other derivations, such as Not now, Leave it, Don't think about it) To alert your dog that any given impulse is not in her best interest (for example, stealing food, chasing an object or animal, and so on) Stay Enforces impulse to control; ideally used when you need your dog to be still or to relax Down (and Settle down) Directs your dog into a submissive, relaxed pose or to her bed Come The human phrase equivalent of the word "Huddle"

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5 Dog Discipline Do and Don'ts

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

No one wants to frighten their dog, but many people do just that, often under the guise of disciplining them. Some people yell at their dog or puppy, though these methods have been proven ineffective. Others are locked into a vicious cycle of physical corrections, though they have no educational value and often instill aggression or make matters worse. If the goal of discipline is to teach a dog better manners, then the effort to communicate as much must be closely examined. Here's what doesn't work and why, and what you can do instead: Don't stare. Unless your gaze conveys deep affection, staring is perceived as confrontational and threatening. Don't confuse your dog. He'll learn to fear or challenge you. Don't chase. Imagine rushing onto another person in the same manner. This technique induces fear or confrontation, not understanding. It's ineffective in communicating anything, except perhaps that you've lost your mind. Don't grab, drag, or hold. When you grab, hold, or drag a dog, his only option is to defend himself. Though you may contain him in the moment or vent frustration, it will lead to out of control behavior. Do stay calm, setting the example to model. You should be the one setting an example of how to act in all situations. Give your dog a good example to follow. Do direct your dog. Your dog can't read your mind. Teach your dog basic commands, such as to stay, follow your lead, and come. Do provide alternatives. Give your dog every opportunity to behave well. Provide ample activities to occupy his energy and curiosity. When you discourage one activity (such as jumping), encourage something else, such as fetching a toy or sitting.

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Interpreting Your Dog's Barking

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Though your dog won't "talk" to you in English, you can interpret both her intentions and immediate desires if you know what to listen for. The following table outlines the range of sounds dogs make, providing you with a human translation and the moods behind every utterance. Overall, a low pitch indicates a more dominant or threatening stance, whereas a high pitch conveys just the opposite — insecurity and fear. A dog whose pitch or vocalization varies is emotionally conflicted. Unsure and unable to properly interpret a situation, this dog needs a lot of direction and interference to feel secure. Barking Interpreted Sound Signal Translation Condition / Emotions Rapid strings of three or four barks with pauses between (midrange pitch) "Gather together. I suspect that there may be something that we should look into." Alerting call suggesting more interest than alarm in the situation. Rapid repetitive barking (midrange pitch) "Call the pack!" "Someone is entering our territory!" "We may need to take some action soon." Basic alarm bark. Dog is aroused, but not anxious. Initiated by nearing of a stranger or occurrence of an unforeseen event. More insistent than the broken bark. Continuous barking (a bit slower and lower pitch) "An intruder (or danger) is very close." "Get ready to defend yourself!" A more worried form of the alarm bark, which senses imminent threat. Long string of solitary barks with pauses between each one "I'm lonely and need companionship." "Is there anybody there?" Usually triggered by social isolation or confinement. One or two sharp short barks (high or midrange pitch) "Hello, there!" "I see you." Typical greeting or acknowledgment signal. Initiated by arrival, or sight, of a familiar person. Single sharp short bark (lower midrange pitch) "Stop that!" "Back off!" Annoyance bark when disturbed from sleep, hair is pulled, and so on. Single sharp short bark (higher pitched) "What's this?" "Huh?" Sign of being surprised or startled. Single bark, more deliberate in delivery, and not as sharp or short as above (mid to upper midrange pitch) "Come here!" Often a learned communication, which tries to signal a human response, such as opening a door, giving food, and so on. Stutter bark (for example, "ar-Ruff!") "Let's play." Usually given with front legs flat on the ground and rear held high as a play invitation. Rising bark "This is fun!" "Let's go!" Excitement bark during play or in anticipation of play, as in the master throwing a ball. Soft low-pitched bark (seems to come from the chest) "Back off!" "Beware!" From a dominant dog who is annoyed or is demanding that others should move away from her. Growl-bark (low pitched "Grrrrr-Ruff") "I'm upset, and if you push me, I will fight!" "Pack mates, rally round me for defense!" A somewhat less dominant sign of annoyance, asking for help from pack members. Growl-bark (higher midrange pitch) "You frighten me, but I will defend myself if I have to!" A worried threat from a dog who isn't confident but will use aggression is pressed. Undulating growl (pitch rises and falls) "I'm terrified!" "If you come at me I may fight, but I also may run." This is the fearful-aggressive sound of a very unsure dog. Yip-howl ("yip-yip-yip-howl, with the howl prolonged) "I'm lonely." "Is there anybody there?" Triggered by isolation from family and other dogs. Howl (often sonorous and prolonged) "I'm here!" "This is my territory!" "I hear your howls." Dogs use this to announce their presence, socialize over a distance, and declare territory. Although it may sound sad to a human, the dog is quite content. Bark-howl ("for example, "Ruff-Ruff-howl") "I'm worried and alone." "Why doesn't somebody come to be with me?" A mournful sound of a dog who is lonely and isolated, but fears that nobody will respond to its call. Baying "Follow me!" "All together now!" "I've got the scent, so keep close!" A hunting call from a dog that has the scent, is tracking the quarry, and is assuring that his pack mates are alerted and near for assistance. Whining that rises in pitch at the end of the sound (may sound like it is mixed with a bit of a yelp) "I want . . ." "I need . . ." A request or plea for something. Louder and more frequent means strong emotion behind the plea. Whining that drops in pitch at the end of the sound or simply fades with no pitch change. "Come on now! Let's go!" Usually indicates excitement and anticipation, such as when waiting for food to be served or a ball to be thrown. Soft whimpering "I hurt." "I'm really frightened." A fearful passive/submissive sound that occurs in adults as well as puppies. Moan-yodel (for example, "Yowel-wowel-owel-wowel") or Howl-yawn (for example, a breathy "Hooooooo-ah-hooooo") "I'm excited! Let's do it!" "This is great!" Pleasure and excitement signals when something the dog likes is about to happen. Each dog will settle on one of these sounds to express this emotion. Single yelp (may sound like a very short high-pitched bark) "Ouch!" A response to sudden, unexpected pain. Series of yelps "I'm really scared!" "I'm hurting!" "I'm out of here!" "I surrender!" An active response to fear and pain, usually given when the dog is running away from a fight or a painful encounter. Screaming (may sound like a child in pain combined with a prolonged yelp) "Help! Help!" "I think I'm dying!" A sign of pain and panic from a dog who is fearful for its life. Panting "I'm ready!" "When do we start?" "This is incredible!" "This is intense!" "Is everything okay?" Simple sound of stress, excitement, or tense anticipation. Sighs "I'm content and am going to settle down here awhile." "I'll give up now and simply be depressed." A simple emotional signal that terminates an action. If the action has been rewarding, it signals contentment. Otherwise, it signals an end of effort.

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