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Lost in Translation

You speak a language. I guess if you’re reading this, you likely speak English. Maybe you also speak Spanish? Or Mandarin? (If you speak all of these, I’m totally impressed.) What you certainly speak is Human. “Human,” in this case, basically equals verbal language - words, letters, sentences, stories. That’s your thing, your family’s thing. It’s everybody’s thing. Except your dog. It’s not her​ thing. It’s not her thing at all.

Primarily your dog speaks body language, energy, emotion, scent, gait, posture, and she is way less about stories than she is about the here-and-now. She gets the meaning of a nip at her neck or a butt in her face. She understands what that nudge meant from the Frenchie in the park. She gets the lean in, the licking of lips, the super slow tail wag, the yawn. She gets a shrill, frustrated, hyper, or unstable voice. She really gets silence. She speaks fluid eye contact. These are her verbs and nouns.

When we bring the two of you together, it can’t be helped, there’s a language gap. There’s a lot of communication going on, almost every second, but even with the best intentions most of it gets twisted in translation.

For instance, let's say she shakes during a thunderstorm. You stroke her, cuddle her close and tell her, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Don’t worry. Daddy’s here for you.” What does she hear? “Yeeeeees, that iiiiis scary. Something terrible is happening! The world is a terrifying place when this happens! I’m scared too!” Or some kids are walking toward you. Her tail twitches quickly, her ears pop up, and an intense, interested gaze comes over her face. She tells you, I will take care of it. You’re so helpless. That's a threat. I’ll kill those things if they come near us!” But when you see those ears go up, the tail wag, maybe you hear, “Oh I’m so excited! I love kids!”

The point is, winging it with your just doesn’t work. Neither of us is a natural interpreter. No matter how obvious it looks to us, we are different species, and if we're using Humanese we are getting it wrong a lot. So it’s better we stop using our phrase book to understand what they’re saying. Stop throwing stories on them that are about us. Learn to see things from their point of view. Because for this to work, someone is going to have to learn a second language. With the exception of “sit” and “heel” and a few other drummed in phrases, it’s not going to be your dog. It’s up to you. You have to learn. Or learn to live forever with a gap between you.

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