Tag Archives: companion dogs

Dogs are listening

One of the absolute cutest dog behaviors ever is the head tilt. It absolutely never fails to make people smile. It’s like dogs are programmed to do it when we talk to them. It proves dogs are listening.

The head tilt is proof dogs are listening

There was a study that reported this week that dogs not only understand when their people are talking to them – they can also distinguish between their native language and a foreign tongue. The weirdest thing about the study was that the dogs also knew when they were being bamboozled and hearing nonsense words.

If you ask us, one of the most impressive things about the study wasn’t that the dogs understood. It’s that the dogs stayed quiet in the MRI machine to participate in the study. Good dogs!

Paying attention all the time

Interpreting their human’s language, attitude, and emotion is a unique trait of dogs. Almost everyone with a dog can relate a story of how their dog never left their side when they were feeling low. Over the centuries of companionship, dogs have become adept at tuning into human society and making it their own.

Does it work both ways? Are you as skilled at reading your dog’s physical and mental well-being? There are the obvious signs that something’s not right, like not eating, restlessness, or even cries of pain. 

Then there are the subtler cues. You can’t quite figure out what’s going on, but you know there’s something. 

Have a routine

One of the ways to “check in” on your dog’s wellbeing is to have a regular grooming day routine. And while you’re brushing their teeth, fur, handling their ears, paws, etc. keep up a conversational patter and see how they respond. If they’re accustomed to you talking to them, it will relax them and let them know everything’s okay. 

Just like us, dogs can have an off day, so if you notice an occasional something, it’s not a big deal as long as your dog bounces back quickly. 

Your dog’s response to your voice is one of the most telling cues they can give you. If you use Yoda-voice to get the head-tilt from your dog, and they don’t do it, that’s a clue. Not that we’re saying we would do that kind of thing. Or at least not more than a couple times a week. 

Talk to them! Dogs are listening

Dogs are great listeners. When nobody else cares what you have to say, they’re fascinated by every syllable. Be sure to use your power wisely – most dogs will think they’re in trouble if you raise your voice or start shouting. You may just be letting off steam, but they don’t know that. 

If you do need to make some noise, be sure to hand your dog treats as you do it. That will let the dog know that whatever is making you unhappy, it’s not their fault.

Best audience, ever

Aside from giving you their complete attention when you talk, dogs provide a great excuse. Back in the days before cell phones, people talking to themselves were often labeled crazy. Unless they were with a dog. Now everybody talks to thin air. But dogs are much better listeners than most people.

The dog who doesn’t cuddle

What do you do with a dog who doesn’t cuddle? 

It’s a dilemma we’ve been coping with since early July, when a foster French Bulldog puppy came into our lives. There are many breeds of dogs that are naturally more aloof. French Bulldogs, and any breed classified as a “Companion Dog” would never be classified that way. 

Too friendly would be a more apt description. One of the reasons Hope’s Torque doesn’t have Obedience titles up the wazoo is because, when he was younger, he was unable to “Sit for Exam.” He was absolutely convinced that the hand reaching out to touch the top of his head needed to be licked and the judge would welcome enthusiastic greetings. He was mistaken, but remained unconvinced.

The dog in front of us

One of the precepts of dog training is to train the dog in front of you. That means not loading old baggage onto the current dog. See who this dog is and adjust to him. 

Image of an eager white and black French Bulldog illustrating a dog who doesn't cuddle.

There are lots of reasons the foster puppy isn’t like other dogs. He spent many formative weeks sick with a deadly virus. After a week in ICU, he spent many subsequent weeks in isolation. He didn’t have the benefit of a full-time “pack.” For his own safety and the recovery home’s, it just couldn’t happen.

This puppy never learned to relax around other dogs and people. When he’s awake, he’s active. He’s busy, nosy, exploring, chewing, annoying, and exhausting. He’s also sweet, fun, smart, biddable, and a little sponge, learning at a great rate. But he’s never relaxed outside of a crate or exercise pen. 

Project not a pet

When most people look to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, they are probably looking for a pet, not a project. But most dogs from shelters or rescues have a history. They may not be from abusive situations, but their known circumstances have changed, and that’s usually not a good thing. 

The ironic aspect is that most newly-adopted dogs use “company manners” for the first few weeks. They don’t understand they’re home to stay. It takes about six weeks or so for the dog’s true personality to emerge. By which time the family loves the dog and is completely committed. So they take on the project that is the dog in front of them.

Commitment to change

We weren’t sure how to cope with a Frenchie who has no particular training issues, but social shortcomings. It’s relatively easy to train a dog to be calm. He can do that. But it requires our constant attention and training. Even if all the other dogs are sacked out, snoozing. He can’t. Torque would like nothing more than to cuddle with him, but the puppy has no experience and doesn’t know how. 

The two keys we preach as dog trainers are patience and consistency. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient. And the guilt is a bit overwhelming. This puppy is crated for many hours a day. Our lives can’t be paused to watch the puppy all the time. We carve out chunks of time to let him be a puppy; playing with toys, with the other dogs, going for walks. But the “down time” just isn’t there.


The puppy’s recovery continues, and he still requires lots of sleep. Almost dying takes time to get over. And in the wee hours of the morning, when Hope opens the crate door, he belly-crawls over to lay his head on her arm for a few minutes. And that very precious time gives us hope for the dog who doesn’t cuddle.