Decoding for Guys & Dogs

Dancer is telling me that she is so very cute and needs a belly-rub, like, now!

Dancer is telling me that she is so very cute and needs a belly-rub, like, now!

I’ve been reading a cool book for kids published by National Geographic titled “How to Speak Dog. A Guide to Decoding Dog Language.” (With a subtitle like that, you can tell it’s not a book for kindergartners.)

Each short section explains dog poses (pointing, freezing in place, even the pose yogis call “downward dog” but authors Aline Alexander Newman and Gary Weitzman and other dog experts call “the play bow”), kinds of barks, tail wags and the like.

It’s a great way for kids (and adults) to figure out what their dogs are “saying” to them.

I especially appreciated the section on “Lying Belly-up,” since Dancer spends a fair amount of her day trying to entice me to rub her belly and will actually fall asleep belly up. I was glad to know that “belly up”=“scratch my belly,” just as I’d thought. The book pointed out that this pose is submissive and shows how much she trusts us.

I was intrigued by their explanation of “Paw on Your Knee,” which can mean a few different things. With Dancer, it’s generally, “pay attention to me, like, now please.” But it can also mean your dog wants what you’re eating, your dog trying to show you it is the leader of the pack, or your dog is just being sweet when it wiggles its paw under your hand.

The decoding in the book reminded me of the decoding Zander is learning. Like many people with autism, reading people’s emotions is difficult for him. Memorizing is not difficult, so he is memorizing what emotions facial expressions express. His teachers show him a card of, say, someone laughing and ask him what they are feeling. “Happy,” he says.

The parallels are not exact, but close enough to remind me that dogs and people have a lot to teach each other. I am looking forward to using this book to teach Zander more about Dancer, as I learn along the way. “Arr-ruff!”

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