“How to Speak Dog” A Book Review

How to Speak Dog Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication 

By Stanley Coren – A Fireside Book published in 2000

This author knows dogs. His longtime interest and personal experience with dogs shows on every page. Beyond beautiful stories and descriptions, Mr. Coren weaves in scientific research on our canine friends. The author uses easy to read language, specific and personal stories to illustrate his points.

Anyone dog lover who wants to understand receptive language ability and productive language ability will want to read and refer to this book. How to Speak Dog has both confirmed what I have already observed in dog communication and opened up more attention to details of canine body language and vocalizations.

The chapter, A Dog is Listening, offers a long sampling of the command words a dog may learn. Many dog lovers want to know why dogs bark and this book provides many studies focused on the purposes barking serves and the huge variation between breeds, from the barkless Basenji to one Cocker Spaniel who produced 90 barks a minute.

As an introduction for a person who is thinking of adopting his or her first dog, this book will help in choosing a dog compatible with personal preferences. As a guide to any person wishing to learn what whines, squeaks, and whimpers mean, The Dog Speaks chapter will be highly useful. Dog vocalizations are described with intent and purpose for such communication. Devoted dog lovers and trainers often know instinctively the existence of Doggish dialects.

In a chapter entitled Face Talk, Coren states, “…the mouth is probably the dog’s single most important means of expression…(not) restricted…simply to sound.”  He goes on to describe five specific positions of the mouth and what those expressions mean. In a last warning of physical attack, a dog’s lip curls up to expose teeth and gums, “with visible wrinkles above the nose.” Coren also addresses the meaning and origins of yawning, kissing, and licking.

There are chapters devoted to Ear Talk, Eye Talk, Tail Talk, and Body Talk. For issues with felines he offers a chapter on Dogs Talking to Cats.

For me, the most important chapters await the reader at the book’s conclusion. In Doggish Dialects, Coren outlines a wide spectrum of Puppyish, which purebreds and breed mixes fall into. Here the author explains and shares research showing how dogs are not wolves and how wide a gap the dog world shares between breeds, which are more like adult wolves attuned to the language of pack and dominance in contrast to the most Puppyish companion dogs who lack the understanding of proper pack behavior and behavioral signals.

In Talking Doggish and Doggerel, Coren addresses that which must be understood for the welfare of all dogs. What people say to their dogs, how dogs teach puppies to behave and how people can defuse an aggressive dog attack come together in this inquiry.

The Appendix alone is worth the price of this book, which includes a Visual Glossary and Doggish Phrasebook.

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