Kids are from Mars & Dogs are from Venus

The Language and Culture Gap

Sunday, October 4, 2020

I graduated from college with a degree in “Language and Culture.” Yep, it was one of “those” liberal arts degrees that can lead to… what, exactly? Though I tried to convince her, my mom could never quite grasp the connection between my degree and dog training. My career is actually a product of that education - with help from a zigzagging progression and convergence of experiences and life choices.

One of the benefits of learning a foreign language is that you have to practice listening. You also have to rehearse speaking that new language over and over in order to be understood. Carrying on in our own language with blatant disregard for who is at the receiving end isn’t conducive to good communication, so study and practice are imperative. If we think we know what the speaker is saying without being really sure, misunderstandings will abound. We also need to be on the lookout for “faux amis.” These “false friends” are words that are very similar but have very different meanings. They can potentially lead to big trouble if we don’t recognize them for what they are. For example, if we go to a “librarie” in France and borrow a few books, we might get arrested for shoplifting. (“Librarie” is bookstore, not library.)

Are you fluent in “DOG”? Are you teaching your kids dog language, too?

We frequently have a language and culture gap with our dogs. Faux amis are everywhere. A dog who is yawning might be saying he’s uncomfortable with a situation - not that he’s tired. A dog who freezes when he’s hugged is likely saying, “please give me space.” Recognizing and respecting the fact that dogs have a very different way of communicating and a different set of rules than our own can help us live safely and happily together. It is not our dogs’ responsibility to learn to speak human: it’s our responsibility to learn their lingo. If we don’t, clashes can occur, sometimes leading to the worst possible outcome. Dogs put up with a lot of rudeness from their human families and friends, particularly if there are young children involved who do not have the capacity or knowledge to read - or heed - dog. Sometimes, after many warning signals are broadcast to no avail, dogs reach the tipping point and take action. I receently overheard a conversation where a woman said they had to euthanize their dog because she nipped a child. The dog didn’t break the kid’s skin, but that one act cost him his life. Most dog bites, even nips, are preventable if we listen to the dog and respond accordingly, before things go downhill. If there is an incident, a professional must be consulted. Other incidents are likely without proper intervention.

Have you ever politely asked someone to leave you alone? What if that person insisted, and you were very uncomfortable about it? What would you do? You would probably speak more aggressively, gradually increasing your warnings until you took aggressive action. So goes it with our dogs. We just don't hear the "please" part, and then we blame them for taking action.

The 3-Second Rule

One of the best rules of thumb when it comes to dog/kid time is to SUPERVISE and quickly interrupt any interactions before the dog or the child expresses discomfort. After 3 seconds of interacting, stop, and give the dog a chance to leave. If he moves away, he’s saying he doesn’t want any more. If he stays or moves closer, he’s happy. Do this with your dog and see what he says! The beauty of it is that it teaches our dogs that they have a choice, and as a result, future interactions actually improve.

A dog should not be thought of as an object to be toyed with anytime we desire, but rather a family member to be respected and understood.

A few signs of stress in dogs:

Lip licking


Showing the whites of eyes


Ears pulled back


But there's much more! Here's your special assignment. Visit the website below, and watch the 2.5 minute video on the home page. Enjoy!