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Wags and barks speak volumes when talking to dogs

Visitors and their dogs enjoy a sunny day at the Sepulveda Basin Dog Park in Los Angeles, where a wag of the tail or a bark can speak volumes.

Associated Press

Visitors and their dogs enjoy a sunny day at the Sepulveda Basin Dog Park in Los Angeles, where a wag of the tail or a bark can speak volumes.

Wags and barks speak volumes when it comes to understanding what a dog is saying, but there are also clues in a dog's eyes, ears, nose or the tilt of its head. Are humans getting the right messages?

Dr. Gary Weitzman, president of the San Diego Humane Society and former CEO of the Washington Animal Rescue League, has worked with tens of thousands of stray dogs over the last quarter century and says there is no question that pets and people communicate, but some are getting more out of it than others.

"Dogs want to be with us and they want to do the right thing. Nothing is ever done by a dog for spite or revenge. That's a human quality. Dogs just want to please us," Weitzman said. "So don't misunderstand what dogs are saying."

Jerry Ericksen of Los Angeles has two dogs and they have different needs that require different languages. Forest, a pit bull that was abused and starved before Ericksen got him, is still super timid and spends his time at the dog park hiding under Ericksen's chair.

"I talk to him in a smooth, gentle voice. He's very cooperative. He's very content," Ericksen said.

Buster is a 90-pound blind boxer. "When I call him, I yell out his name and keep clapping so he can zero in on where I am," Ericksen said. "If he starts to walk into something, I will yell 'stop' and he will change direction."

Buster has only been around Forest for six months, but they communicate, too. "When we come home from the dog park, Forest will go in first, walk 10 feet and wait. When I take the collar and leash off Buster, Forest takes over and guides him to the yard," Ericksen said.

Weitzman's book, How to Speak Dog, was just released by the National Geographic Society and the veterinarian hopes it will help people better grasp what their dogs are saying so they can respond better.

When man first meets mutt, it is up to the person to eliminate hostility. In the exam room, Weitzman will often get on the floor with a dog to reduce any threats.

You have to make sure a dog can hear when you talk, Weitzman said. Some dogs are born deaf or go deaf with age. Long ears make hearing more of a chore. Those dogs also don't have the ability to talk with their ears because they can't prick them, cock them or pin them back.

"Every once in a while, a dog will come along that just seems to 'get' you. You think it even reads your mind," Weitzman said. "I really think these animals are soul mates. I had a dog I know was my soul mate. I understood her with a look and she understood me with a look back."

Wags and barks speak volumes when talking to dogs 12/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 20, 2013 7:06pm]

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