Ten Common Communication Problems

Most of our dogs' behavior problems are simply a result of miscommunication. Once you work out what dogs are saying and find better ways to communicate with them, most behavior problems are easy to fix.

Dogs and people have been living together for thousands of years, and for the most part we understand each other pretty well. But every now and then we encounter situations in which communication breaks down. Our dogs don't understand what we want them to do, or, just as often, we give them messages we didn't intend.

When you consider that people and dogs speak entirely different languages, it's surprising that failures to communicate don't occur more often. "It's hard enough to communicate clearly and effectively with people," says Liz Thomas, a dog trainer in Alexandria, Virginia. "But when we try to communicate with our dogs, we have the added difficulty of working with a different species that doesn't talk and doesn't think the same way people do."

Communication problems sometimes take surprising forms, and it's not always easy to recognize them for what they are, Thomas says. Suppose your dog has been chewing on your shoes. She isn't merely misbehaving. She's trying to tell you something. What that something is depends on the dog and the situation. Dogs who spend a lot of time alone will sometimes chew as a way of dispelling feelings of loneliness or frustration. Other dogs chew because they don't understand the difference between their possessions and yours. Others may chew for the simple reason that it feels good to do it.

In other words, people and dogs speak different languages -- and until we each learn the other's language at least a little bit, we're bound to have communication problems. Often, these problems take surprising forms. You might not think that destructive chewing, leash-pulling, or house soiling result from our failures to communicate with our dogs, or vice versa. In fact, communication may be at the heart of some of these difficulties.

In many cases, solving these problems gets a lot easier with a little bit of empathy on our part. Here are some ideas on how to better understand why your dog is doing something, and how to overcome some of the most frequently occurring -- not to mention vexing -- obstacles to human-canine harmony.

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