Friday, November 24, 2023

Whispers, Screams, & Singing

Do dogs whisper, scream, & sing?

And if so, what does that look like?

Most dog owners would say that their dog has different barks or levels of bark to mean different things. They may use in "inside voice" or whisper on cue to get a treat, their alarm bark for an intruder that can be heard miles away, and sometimes a singing voice that often comes out when they are playing with good friends. Just like the audible voice dogs have, their behavior also reveals body signals that can be divided into these 3 categories. The emotions a dog is feeling in any given moment plus the level of arousal the dog is experiencing work together to create the behaviors we see. Humans then can observe these behaviors to take an educated guess at what our dogs might be feeling.


The loudest, most energetic, obnoxious, extreme behaviors are signs that our dog is extremely aroused and over-threshold or rapidly going off the deep end. This might be that audible alarm bark, lunging at a perceived threat, running away, or any one of the behaviors that we recognize as fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or fool around behaviors. New dog owners might struggle to recognize this body language, but most seasoned dog owners recognize when their dog is over-the-top reacting to a change in the environment.


These are more like the subtle body language cues we can observe in our dog that suggest something has gotten their attention and their arousal level is starting to increase. Unlike screams, the whispers are very easy to miss! Whispers vary greatly from individual to individual, sometimes impacting the common places we watch for body language (eyes, ears, mouth, tail, etc) but creating such a minor change that it's easily missed. Often dog trainers will refer to these smaller actions as micro signals, meaning small or almost barely noticeable actions.

Azul's nose is his first thing to change when he notices a change in the environment. His biggest distractions are other dogs, deer, farm animals, and burrowing animals. When Azul smells things of interest, his nostrils flare a bit faster which is really hard to see since his nose is generally facing away from me or buried in the ground. Often the first thing I see is his nose point up towards the sky or down to the ground followed by the rest of the body freezing in place. How long that freeze position lasts will depend on how high Azul's arousal level is in that moment; the more excited he is the longer he freezes. Azul generally carries his tail high, often curled to the point of touching his back. However as his arousal starts to climb, his tail goes straight out like a pointer. If his tail drops below his back level, then whatever he is smelling is a bit scary going even lower for extreme scares. If Azul's tail points out then curls back up quickly, it's likely he's spotted something that he wants to chase. 

Sometimes whispers or micro-signals happen so fast that owners miss them entirely not recognizing a pattern for their dog. This is especially true for owners who ask their dogs to stay in heel most of the walk. If your dog is walking by our sides, yet our gaze tends to be out in front of us along the path, we simply can't see many of those signs. This is one the great advantages of getting comfortable with walking using a longline of 10-15ft as this places your dog out in front or off to the side far enough for you to easily watch their whole body as you walk.


You may have guessed that this is when you and your dog have spent countless hours walking, training, engaging with each other and now you seem to have hit your stride where you are just in tune with each other. This would be my comparison to an opera singer or someone with great talent. But there are also dog/owner moments where perhaps you're both singing the same song, but perhaps in different rhythms or at different volumes. This would be the case if you've been able to get to a routine walk that both you and your dog enjoy together, but perhaps there is still a hiccup or an unpredicted tempo change every now and them.

I've always considered this to be like dancing with your dog with some give & take, changing out who is leading for a nice back and forth silent conversation as go through your daily activities. Another trainer refers to this as tracking, or paying attention to movements and motions of another being. It doesn't really matter what you call this form of communication between you and your dog, but it should be every dog owner's goal; to spend more time in a singing or dancing mood state and as little time in the screaming state as possible. Recognizing the whispers helps us to sing in better harmony.

My job as a Canine Coach is to help you reach a point where you and your dog can meet each other's needs, communicate clearly, and enjoy moments in time together. I love helping dog owners turn the screams into whispers. And if we can spend enough time together, I love seeing you hit that magic point where you and your dog are singing together!

If you're not thrilled with your dog's behaviors, let me help you! 
  1. The blogs in this website are easily searchable from a web browser, which leads to a whole bunch of free information.
  2. Several specialty FB Groups are available to help you depending on what you need. You can always message me to see what group(s) might be best for you.
  3. Virtual classes & workshops can help with learning to understand your dog, communicate better as a team, build confidence, increase focus around distractions and work on advanced training.
  4. Monthly memberships are one of the cheapest ways to get help with your specific issue, mixing webinars, workshops, printed text, video demonstrations, and live group sessions.
  5. Private session packages are a great way to save a bit a money when we need to build up skills as your puppy grows up or to work on a challenging behavior. I have several package formats available right now including in-person and virtual sessions, 1 hr sessions, 2 hr sessions, & 4 hour sessions.
Most of these allow you to mix & match a few services to get the most bang for your buck!

And be sure to check out the Yooper Paws Patreon Page where you can select memberships, including a free option that is going to have a Creating a Calm Christmas Collection available beginning Dec 1st!

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