Dog 101: Sensitivity Training

Here’s one way to tell if you rely too much on four-letter words, and in particular the strongest Anglo-Saxon variety beginning with the letter “F”: your dog reacts when you say them. It’s no surprise that dogs react when they hear angry language; they may not understand the words literally, but they’re faultless interpreters of tone and mood and body language. But the last time I was around a dog on a daily basis, back when I was a kid, really, I didn’t pick up so much on how dogs responded to the tenor of someone’s speech. Since Scout has been around, nearly a year and a half, I’ve been surprised to find that he’s really put off when he hears me swear. Today, driving home from picking up the van at the garage, I made an angry comment about one of my fellow drivers. Scout had been sitting next to me, but he immediately got down and went to the back of the car; he didn’t want to be around if I was pissed off. He also seems to be especially sensitive to hearing the F-word; maybe it’s because he hears it only when someone is really angry. I don’t know. But it’s something I find myself more and more conscious of; again, I don’t know, but maybe it’s because he reacts so viscerally and visibly. Ironic that it has taken a dog, and not wife, kids, siblings, parents, coworkers, softball umpires or other unfortunate ear witnesses to demonstrate the emotional effect of my swearing habit.

4 Replies to “Dog 101: Sensitivity Training”

  1. I remember when you found Scout. Or, maybe, he found you. Little did he know he would have his work cut out for him. 🙂
    I’m so glad he landed on his feet in your family. I bet he’s glad too.

  2. Yes, we were very careful about what we said around our dogs. The phrase that would make them perk up from any room in the house was “Do you wanna”. That phrase, in their mind, was always followed by “liver”, “go for a ride”, or “go for a walk”. I think it was the tone and the rhythm more than the words. Have you seen that Gary Larson cartoon about what we say to dogs and what they hear?

  3. Oh, yeah, Scout picks up on all that stuff, too. He gets very excited if I just say the word “marina,” which is where the dog park is. That Larson cartoon is right on the money.

  4. They are amazingly sensitive. Alice, our 6 year-old Wheaten Terrier, will leave the room if voices are raised in anger. If it persists, she will nervously return, tail tucked, and back up to one of the parties to the disagreement. She’ll stand there with her hind quarters pressed against someone until the fighting stops. In happier moments, if someone in the house is hugging, she will come running and jump up to try to get in on the hug. We’ve decided it’s the tonal inflections she’s responding to – high pitch=happy, low pitch= angry. We’ve tested this theory by talking in a high pitched voice – her tail starts wagging immediately. Low pitch and it tucks.

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