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How to communicate with your dog and interpret the messages it sends :understanding your canine's posture and gestures

Updated on January 25, 2013
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Michelle is a professional freelance writer who loves music, poetry, pets, and the arts. She is a techno-geek as well.

"Ill be watching you...."
"Ill be watching you...." | Source

Canines may not be able to verbalize their thoughts or speak to their owners. That does not mean that they have no way of letting owners know what is on their furry minds!! They have ways of getting their messages across that owners will find very useful and even vital to understand. Good communication with your dog helps to prevent unpleasant mishaps like aggression, biting and even depression.

So how does a canine communicate? He uses all parts of the body, very much like we do. By looking at his eyes, ears, tail, gestures and posture, we can know what our pooch is trying to tell us and attend to him quickly. Body language is an important indicator of mood, very much like it is in humans.

Learn to speak dog!

Observe your dog!

Take some time off, relax and just look at your dog. Each dog, just like each individual, is special and has different mannerisms and habits. Observation is the best way to access your dogs “dog-sanality”.

My West Highland Terrier, Cloudy, loves staring out of the window and I at first found that to be just adorable canine behavior. I did not think much about the behavior and what she actually wanted. That was a mistake on my part, for in soon developed into her wanting to dash out of the apartment whenever I opened the door. It then dawned on me that looking outside meant that she really wanted was to have a long walk so that she could sniff around and stretch a bit.


Take a look at your canine's posture

A dog’s posture tells owners what it wants and what its intentions are. It is time consuming to learn all the signals, but helps owners discern a canine’s mood and emotions.

Now, mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the cutest of them all?
Now, mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the cutest of them all? | Source

Confident posture

When a dog is sure of itself, it stands upright, has a slow, wagging tail and its ears will be either pricked up or relaxed. Its pupils will be smaller as opposed to being dilated. If they are pricked up, it is not an aggressive sign but one that shows the alertness and curiosity of the dog.


"Hey, Mac! Let's go play!"
"Hey, Mac! Let's go play!" | Source

Bowing

When your dog stretches out in front of you with his head towards the ground, it is an invitation to play. For those who have not owned dogs, this can be read as an aggressive stance. It actually denotes a clear request. Let’s go play!!


"You're the boss. Now give me a belly rub, or else!"
"You're the boss. Now give me a belly rub, or else!" | Source

Rolling over

A dog rolling over is submitting to his “leader of the pack” (in this case, the owner). It is a submission to the leader’s dominance. It expects to be rewarded for his deference to authority with a belly rub!!

Both my dogs, Cloudy and Misty, do this very often to let me know that they respect what I have to say. I give a belly rub and a treat.


"Come play with me! Huh? Huh?"
"Come play with me! Huh? Huh?" | Source

Swinging Hips

This is yet another sign of play. When a dog hits a person or another dog with his rear end, it is a desire for what is known as “mammalian play.” Your dog may also want a scratch or have other needs, so it is good to observe him a bit more.


"Now, if you try to take this away from me, you've had it!"
"Now, if you try to take this away from me, you've had it!" | Source

Suddenly stops what it is doing

This usually happens when your dog has a bone in its mouth. Do not get in the way! This is a clear indication of his desire to protect his possessions. He will most definitely bite if you try to remove his bone with your bare hands.

Another family West Highland Terrier, Sean, bit my mother’s finger off when she tried to do exactly that. He actually stole a chicken bone and my mother was afraid of the splinters. When she tried to remove it, he got defensive and bit her finger off almost totally. She needed stitching and physiotherapy.


Source

Constant Pacing

If your dog constantly paces the ground, he is looking for something to do. Keep it occupied with its toys or get ready to take it out for a walk.

Cloudy is a hyperactive dog with a constant need for something to do. She loves pacing in front of the window to indicate her desire to go outside to play. I oblige when it is her time for a walk, or give her nylon bones to chew.


"Mess with me and I'll..."
"Mess with me and I'll..." | Source

Aggressiveness

Canine aggression is definitely the behavior we all can relate to. The dog will lean forward and appear stiff. He will, of course, bare his teeth and emit a growl. His tail will be usually tucked under or be wagging frantically as he barks.

Spot the warning signs early. If your dog is appearing stiff and poised to lunge forward, or the whites of its eyes start showing as it looks around, take steps to rein him in by using a leash or distracting him.


Watch out for your canine's little actions!

The little things that your dog does can show you what mood it is in and what its intention is.


"Ok...what're you up to now?"
"Ok...what're you up to now?" | Source

Curiosity or being puzzled.

Your dog will have his head tilted to one side to show his interest or that he is listening to what you are saying. This is adorable behavior, but also indicates that he wants to know more.

Hyperactive and curious dogs like Cloudy always love to tilt their heads to the side when they hear strangers at the door or when someone suddenly laughs. They want to know more about the sudden sounds and movement.


"I could say I love you or want something from you!"
"I could say I love you or want something from you!" | Source

Mounting

Mounting is a behavior that often gets owners a little uncomfortable. Often associated with mating and sexual reasons, owners are embarrassed when their dogs suddenly have a hump fest when their friends are around. Some owners are also uncomfortable because they think that this is a sign of dominance.

Perhaps it is, but there are other reasons for a dog to mount. Some may be excited or anxious, while others are bored and seeking attention. Interpret its intentions by observing a little more. If your dog is anxious, assert yourself, stroke it and calm it down. If it is bored, give it something to do.


"i'm sc...scared!"
"i'm sc...scared!" | Source

Hiding under the bed or couch

A dog that does this is very often insecure. Something about its surroundings may be bothering it. Observe a little more to discern what it actually is.

Cloudy loves to duck under the bed when I brush her teeth. It did not take me long to figure out what she was afraid of!

Source

Raised Paws

This is an invitation to play or a sign of friendliness. A dog usually does this to get his owner’s attention in a good way. He may also want his walk or have other needs, like to have his hunger satisfied! A raised paw is a clear sign of friendship.


'Who's the underdog now?"
'Who's the underdog now?" | Source
Source

Dominance

Dogs are pack animals, and it is not surprising that they wish to establish their superiority over the rest of the pack. This is done by one dog placing its paws on the back neck of another or by staring. He may just stand over another dog in a lower position (such as when the dog is sleeping.)

I often have to stop Cloudy from being dominant over my Schnauzer, Misty, as she is older and has a neurological disorder. She is a gentle soul who will just be stepped over by the younger Cloudy. When they get into a fracas, I usually stop Cloudy with a firm and controlled "No."

"I'm done. Are you?"
"I'm done. Are you?" | Source

Shaking

When a dog gets up and shakes, this is an indication that it has finished whatever it was doing previously, usually resting. This means that it is time for owners to find it something to occupy itself with!! If there is a threat nearby, owners may want to remove it because the dog may shake as a sign of being alert to the threat and may proceed with unwelcome behavior.

Check your dog’s tail.

Dogs wag their tails, so everyone knows. What everyone may not know is that they wag their tails in different ways to express different intentions. A wagging tail does not always mean that a dog is entirely happy, so do be careful.

Source

Tail in the upright position

This means that a dog is feeling very sure of itself and is in a playful, assertive mood. A dog with such a tail is usually the “alpha dog” among other dogs.

A note is that there may be more than one dog that wishes to be the “Alpha dog” and fights may break out viz possessions or one trying to be more dominant over the other. Practice good pack management and let them all know that the owner is the boss.


"I'm a little bit afraid that...."
"I'm a little bit afraid that...." | Source

Tail between the legs or down

This is usually a sign of insecurity or fear. If a dog is in this position, it is good to check what could be bothering it. There could be some threat to the environment.


"Now I'm satisfied."
"Now I'm satisfied." | Source

A neutral tail

This tail is just raised above its body. It shows a friendly, relaxed dog. It is being secure and playful!!

This is usually accompanied by bowing and is an invitation to play. Take this time to start a game of throw and catch with the dog!


Conclusion to Part 1

Dogs tell us many things, so it is up to owners to watch out for the messages canines are sending. Taking time to watch out for a dog’s signals prevents dangerous situations and ensures good communication with a pet.

There is still more to discuss about the way a dog communicates viz its ears, eyes and even facial gestures, which is a subject of another article. May looking out for these communication signals create better bonds between owners and their dogs!


Copyright (C) Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin All rights reserved.

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    • abbyw1989 profile image

      Abby 4 years ago from Ireland

      Another great informative lens - a few facts I didn't know here! :)

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Understanding the way a dog sends messages will bridge the gap between pets and their owners.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Abby! Glad that you like this! There's so much more that I felt I should not squeeze into one hub, so I'll offer it in Part 2. Thanks for coming by, Glad you've liked it!

    • loconk profile image

      Made Sukawinata 4 years ago from Bali

      great hub

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, loconk.

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Great information provided. Cats are very similar in many of these actions. No matter the type of animal, show it love and attention and it will give it back tenfold. Great Job!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Richard. The love of the animal is the best form of communication! Thanks for coming by!

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      you are really a dog lover. you presented this hub very well. Hats off!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, M. The dogs say hi too! Thanks for coming by!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Wow, this was so detailed and very informative Michelle about how dogs will try to communicate with you. Some of the things I did know and were aware of, but some I wasn't so thank you my friend for a bit of an education on this topic. Look forward to reading the next installment now. Have of course voted and shared all over :)

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for coming by, Janine!! Dog body language helps us to get to know them a bit better. Cloudy just did the "Puzzled" look at me just now. She was wondering why dogs were barking on the computer. They have their ways! Thanks for coming by!

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I found this so helpful since my miniature schnauzer is the first dog I ever owned. I seem to be able to now interpret many of his actions at home but the dog park is a whole different story and he can get really crazy there. Voted up and shared!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hope this helps, healthy life! I have a schnauzer too, they're usually great at home but a little wilder outdoors when they make friends. Look out for the actions-then you can preempt! Thanks for coming by!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Every dog owner should read this...a lot we know, a lot we don't. You've given some really good information that applies to all dogs and is a good way to gauge what is on their minds. Dogs everywhere thank you.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Mary! They can't talk, so I guess we have to second-guess by watching them a little more! I hope this helps dog owners. Thanks for coming by!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      This is one for the reference file mark 'Rodney' and I'm definitely sharing. They are all so sweet.

      A brilliant job Michelle.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Jo!! These dogs will definitely thank you for it because they need ways to express themselves! Thanks for coming by!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Hehehe, my German Shepherd does that head to the side, quizzical look and it's too cute! This is a great resource, especially for new dog owners, pet sitters, and people who generally aren't always around dogs! As you point out, there are things dogs do because they're excited and want to play that can be misinterpreted if you're not familiar with pups.

    • coffeegginmyrice profile image

      Marites Mabugat-Simbajon 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      I love this hub and for sure my furry love, Simba will admire it too. I talk to him more than anyone at home. And my kids would say, "mom, Simba does not understand that." "Oh, yes he does," I reply, because he really does. I know he responds to my talking from the tone of my voice, but truly too, I'd go crazy spending time alone at home if my dog and I don't talk at all, lol.

      If he is not ready for nature's call nor wanting to go out, he distance himself underneath the table and it is really a struggle to convince him, except if we say, "Simba, do you want to go out? Do you wanna come?" for sure he'll jump up right away and make those little cries of excitement.

      When it is time for his shower and dental hygiene, it is easy for me to lure him to the bathroom with his leash on or else, he will be hiding away again underneath the dining table.

      He is too cute when he reaches his paw when he asks for rubbing and scratching.

      And Simba does understand what "making love" is. He would grab his own stuffed dog or big bear and do exactly the same thing, lol.

      Love to share doggie love. Useful, awesome and interesting! Thank you midget! Pinning and sharing, woof!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Jo, Yes, I hope that this helps all the dog owners out there! Thanks for sharing and for coming by, my friend!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Natashalh, thanks for coming by. Yes, when they do that, it's absolutely adorable. My Westie just did that today while I was adding the video to the hub. She was wondering which dogs were making a barking sound!! They do things which are easily misunderstood if we do not read the signals. Thanks for coming by!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Marites, thanks for introducing Simba!! Sounds like he could be really shy and afraid of having his little "table space" invaded!! Sounds like a loving, friendly dog as most of them are. True. I would go nuts at home alone if I didn't have Cloudy to talk to either!! And yes, they do understand everything we say! Thanks for Pinning And Sharing!!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 4 years ago from USA

      What a wonderful dictionary for dog language! The photographs help so much in showing the different body postures. I am going to link it to my hub about overcoming your fear of dogs. Voted up!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Great information on canine communications, midge! Nicely done! Voted up and more.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Millionaire Tips!! I am really honored that you'll link this hub. I hope that the hubs we do about dogs will be useful to owners...that's why we write them! I'll put yours here as well!! Thanks so much for coming by!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      We people who are true dog lovers are very much aware of how our pets communicate with us and other dogs. I know what my Baby is thinking and says to me all the time.

      Great Hub. I voted it UP, shared, Pinned to my Pets board, and tweeted.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Takes a lot of time, communication and love, and Baby definitely returns it. Thanks for coming by, Mary!

    • Healthyannie profile image

      Healthyannie 4 years ago from Spain

      Great hub, I love dogs and currently have a Yorkshire terrier.

      Here is a bit of puzzling behaviour for you. Cats love my dog and even stray cats will follow him. He "speaks" pretty good cat language with face rubbing etc, and he will even patiently wait for the cats. Sometimes I am walking around with as many as four cats following us. Strange, huh? Annie and Gonzo.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      HealthyAnnie, it sounds like your dog has a real affinity with cats, who take him as a pack leader. Gonzo sounds like a very confident dog, and very much an "Alpha Dog" with a heart to boot. I can tell by the way he treats the cats. Not surprising that they gravitate to him. Thanks for introducing us!!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, TT! Glad you like it. Thanks for the vote!!

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

      Cute pictures, midget, I liked your neat hub on dogs. They are like one of the family and a vital part in our own mental and emotional needs. The tail, the stance, the licking...wish they could talk sometimes.

    • Farmer Rachel profile image

      Rachel Koski 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Awesome hub, great pictures. I don't think I've ever seen a more complete list of dog expressions and behaviors, and you defined it all so clearly! Voted way up :)

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Me too, whonunuwho. Wish we could have a conversation with them. They'd tell us and teach us so much!! Glad you like this pet hub! Thanks for coming by!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Farmer Rachel!! Glad you've stopped by and have enjoyed these...animals can tell us so much!! Really appreciate you coming by!

    • Lord De Cross profile image

      Joseph De Cross 4 years ago

      Wow! You took me to the very end Michelle! Dogs can communicate the same way we do. But biting is a no no! Actually we can bite ourselves if we feel like Myke Tyson (jk). Hope this hub help so many new owners and the young as well.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Ah, dog discipline is yet another "doggy" area, Joseph! Involves another hub! I don't think we'd have a mind for Mike too often though, a bit too painful! thanks for coming by!

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      You must be a really good & responsible dog owner. Dogs are really sensitive I think and I appreciate a lot the dog owners that really care on how their dogs feel and what is on their minds

      Great Hub. I voted it UP & shared!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Mike! Dogs are sharp creatures. It's good to understand what's on their minds so that it's better for them and the human too! Thanks for coming by!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      As a dog owner, I found this article useful and informative. Can't wait to read the second part.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 4 years ago

      This is the encyclopedia of dog talk! So clearly written and informative... just perfect!! Wonderful job Michelle!! I LOVE this hub ^_^ I'm going to come back often until I memorize it! Voting and sharing!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      The best hub on dog communication! Magnificent. Very helpful information. Eager to read all of your hubs on dogs. Thank you so much. Up, useful, awesome and interesting. Sharing.

    • Golfgal profile image

      Golfgal 4 years ago from McKinney, Texas

      Hi there, thanks for the tips. I have three canine friends that I call my girls. I just love them so much. We adopted them all. the latest adoption is only 10 pounds and wants to be the alpha, but my 80 pound girl....says...no way.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Vinaya,thanks for coming by! Glad this is useful!Am releasing part 2 shortly, hope that will be useful as well. Appreciate the read!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for the support and enthusiasm, Sasha! I hope it helps! hope to offer more useful tips in part 2, coming out shortly. Thanks for coming by!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Audrey, thanks for the read and share! Will be releasing part 2 of this shortly and I hope it helps as well. thanks for coming by!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi to your little girls for me, gofgal! Oh dear..two Alpha females! As long as you establish that you are the pack leader above them, they'll be at peace. Thanks for the read, appreciate you coming by!

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      I just love that picture of the little dog with the huge bone. It made me laugh. Once a person takes time to learn dogs, they can be amazed. My own little MiraBella "talks" all the time. Thanks for a great tutorial on how dogs communicate!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hyph, they talk all the time! it's just a matter of learning what they have to say! Say hi to Mirabelle for me!! Thanks for dropping in!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Very useful information. Since our dog came from an unhappy situation I am trying to read her body language. I think she is getting more comfortable and trusting of us so is getting a bit more expressive. sharing with followers.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      My dog 'grins'. He has had many people think that he was snarling at them and he was just grinning at them. He has gotten to where he will just grin for his family and close friends that he likes. He is terrified of storms and usually spends them under our bed or under my desk. He likes the desks with people at them the best, so we can protect him.

      He will also come to me when I am sitting in a chair and get up almost in my lap, he is a little too big for that. He wants some loving from me and will put his head on my shoulder for hugs. I lean into him and rub his back. His tail goes wild then and the look on his face is ecstatic. They do talk to us if we are not too blind to see.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      It'll take a bit of time with a dog who's had a few problems, dahoglund. Glad the bond between you is growing! Thanks for coming by and really appreciate the share!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Becky! Glad we are in agreement on that one! Yes, if we are not too blind to see, they tell us a lot. And if we communicate with them the right way, they are truly your best friends for life! Thanks for stopping by!

    • Better Yourself profile image

      Better Yourself 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Another great hub! I've had dogs all my life so some of the information I was already familiar with but definitely learned some new facts - Thanks for sharing!!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Better Yourself! Glad that this has been useful! Thanks for coming by!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I like dogs and have a way with them to understand and know them naturally thanks for sharing your excellent hub you have covered all aspects

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks DDE. Glad you've found it useful!

    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Awesome hub, I learned a lot here!! Lots of useful information.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Pinkchic, glad to share!

    • Billie Kelpin profile image

      Billie Kelpin 3 years ago from Newport Beach

      EXCELLENT! I tweeted and face-booked this. This would make a GREAT slideshow like the kind they show on AOL. I clicked on the Gevalia ad because Hubpages says we can and I really think that's good for us to do for each other when we really are interested in the ad. (I'm now registered for my free Gevalia sample!) Yay.

      Oooh, gotta tell you. I saw a demonstration by "drug dogs" (don't know what you call them) and that reinforces EVERYTHING you say about the subleties. The dogs didn't bark loudly as I expected when they found the drugs the handler hid for demonstration. (Sometimes you don't want them to draw attention as in an airport, etc.) The handler simply watched where the dog's head was pointing.

      So now, when my little Scooter turns his head on a walk, I know he wants to go in that direction. "No, Scooter, I say, we have to go home." He's a little Shitzu with a mind of his own, but he understands the reasoning when I understand him and explain why we can't do something :) and it makes ME feel better. (My husband thinks I'm crazy, but I know differently).

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      HI, Billie. That's right, always watch out for subtle indications from these K9s...because they tell you what you need to know! That's why drug dogs are so fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

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