Learning to Speak Dog

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Sometimes, my students ask me, "What is Maestro saying?" Usually, I'm able to answer them. I've interpreted my dog's body language and vocal language as follows: Maestro's Work-Related Vocabulary

  • "When's Student X coming?"
  • "Who's there?"
  • "You're late! Come down now. Play piano now."
  • "Yuck. Your scales suck. I'm leaving."
  • "You're steady! I wag in time with you."
  • "That's awesome! I sing now!"
  • "Hey Human. I. Want. My. Bongos. Get. My. Bongos."

  • "I. Want. Rainstick." 
  • "HOLEPUNCH!"
  • "TAMBOURINE!"
  • "BONGOS!"
  • "No. You can't leave with my rhythm sticks. Put them back."
  • "No. Don't take that prize. Take the one I don't like."
  • "You stay out there. I stay in my room." (to younger siblings of students)
  • "You're cool. I'll sleep beside you, belly up. K?"
  • "What are you doing? Get off the floor!"
  • "Come to my office...get me treat."

A Shortlist of Maestro's General Vocabulary

  • "Play with me."
  • "Scratch me...there."
  • "I'm going out and you're not."
  • "Don't touch."
  • "Pet me."
  • "Feed me treats."
  • "Potty. Pl....lease!"
  • "I feel funny. Help."
  • "Please? I Want. Please?"
  • "I sit pretty for the thing that makes snapping noises and flashes.  Me good boy."
  • "No! That's not what I said. Why don't you understand?"
  • "I'm the man of the house. Not you." (He only tries to do this with really tall male visitors.)
  • "My human."
  • "Cuddle."
  • "Stop."
  • "Go."
  • "More?"
  • "I'm bored."
  • "Where are you going?"
  • "What are you doing?"
  • "I'm scared."
  • "Hungry."
  • "I'm happy."
  • "Thank you."

Some of Maestro's vocabulary is specific to his role as a Studio Canine Assistant. One could say he has a typical vocabulary for a terrier, as well.

However, there are enough "phrases" in Maestro's vocabulary that are common among dogs. I'm no expert, but having grown up around dogs, I would say that you can generally break down dogspeak to needs, wants, likes, dislikes, attempts at dominance and moments of submission.

How can one figure out what dogs are saying? Experts have various tips and tricks. I simply pay attention to Maestro's body language, the expression in his eyes and the inflection of his voice. For instance, his ears go straight back when a student plays a soft piece like a heavy rock number. He then moves away from the piano (usually to my office).

The bongos? Those are pretty obvious: Sit pretty. Look at bongos. Look at human. Look at bongos. Look at human. Bark. Repeat with anything that he wants.

As several dog behaviour experts have noted, once the hierarchy has been established, dogs get upset when others don't follow it. That's why he gets upset when some students do their homework on the floor (during their sibling's lesson).

How he figured out to keep the groom occupied at wedding music consultations, so that bride could listen to the music selections without interruptions is beyond me.

Now, the one thing that I find truly amazing is that if Maestro eats something that disagrees with him, he gives me a 30 to 45-second warning to get him to a puke-friendly surface. He touches my leg with his forepaw, sits down and looks at me oddly (I suppose the official term would be "in distress"). When I ask, "What's up?" His breathing changes. Then I know.

There are numerous resources available if you'd like to learn how to better understand dog language. Here is a short list:

Dog Language - An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior by Roger Abrantes on Amazon | Alibri's

How to Speak Dog by Stanley Coren on Amazon | Alibri's

How to Speak Dog by Sarah Whitehead on Amazon | Alibri's

Speaking Dog on Dog Breed Info's Website