The Rosetta Bone

Pun 100 percent intended.

In college, I studied Communications.

It wasn’t a B.S. in Canine Sciences, but it was a pretty interesting degree. In a past life, I am pretty sure I was a veterinarian. I was the Dr. Gregory House of veterinarians. I saved hundreds of animals’ lives, and had an international canine clientele.

But in this life, I am not a veterinarian. Because I cannot do organic chemistry or stoichiometry, I cannot understand nor appreciate a Nucleotide structure, and it is a very freezing day in hell when I can comprehend any concept of calculus. I am extremely right-brained, and while the right side of my brain is capable of loving and caring for absolutely any animal (No, I do not consider a cockroach an animal. Anything that can survive 10 days without its head, atomic bombs, ice ages, nuclear explosions, extreme temperatures and multiple shots of Windex is not an animal.), unfortunately just loving and caring will not save an animal if he/she is in harm’s way. So, in this lifetime, I am an animal-loving journalist. Which brings me just as much happiness.

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I refuse to eat your calculous homework tonight.


Anyways, my point is that I have a degree in the sole thing that holds our society together, the thing that can divide nations and unify cultures: Communication. It is a very powerful and useful study, which is one of the reasons I chose it. Whether it be verbal cues, different language, interpersonal, intercultural- communication is what essentially makes the world go ’round. And interestingly enough, the same holds true for our animal friends, too.

Dr. Doolittle wasn’t crazy.

Animals can talk. Not the same way we do, unfortunately. Of course, I would love to be able to actually explain to my dog that the squirrels aren’t worth the chase, or that the reason why we don’t give him human food is actually because we love him, and that we have our reasons as to why he can’t munch on the strange things that the humans wear on our feet. While it is bittersweet that they cannot communicate the way that humans do, they are still able to communicate and actively network. Or should I say PETwork! (Someone stop me.)

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It is crucial to learn the signals that your dog is transMUTTing (I CAN’T STOP), for multiple reasons. First off, it’s important to their overall health- you can tell a lot about a dog’s health by examining his non-verbal cues. Second off, it could protect you one day. Mammals communicate the same, for the most part, and while you’re out in a WiFi-free zone one day, reading the non-verbal cues of a not-so-friendly wild animal might just save you. (To some people, I am Hillary Tapley. To others, I am Eliza Thornberry.) So at long last, here are some common yet important signals that your pup gives off on the daily:


The Wink

We’ve all seen it. It happens from time to time. You’re cursing at your taxes or folding your laundry, and you look down at your pup for some relief, and he gives you a suave, charming wink. This is not the same wink that you might get at a bar from a balding man named Bruce in a Harley Davidson jacket. It simply means that your dog is about to take a nap in about 15 seconds. He is calm and relaxed, and the duties of protecting his humans from any intruders are in the back of his mind. This cue also represents the same signal as the infamous nose-lick.

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Yeah I have no idea what this one means.

The Stances of Distress

These stances are important to know if you plan on socializing your dog a lot, whether it be in a dog park, or if you plan on boarding him/her with other dogs while you’re out of town. It is crucial to know how your dog will get along with others to avoid any physical conflict. There are three main signals of distress in a dog:

  1. Dominant Aggressive: The dog’s back is raised, the tail is stiff and in an upright position, the front teeth are exposed, and the hackles (tufts of fur on his back) are raised up. When a dog shows this signal, he/she is not trying to play. A lot of fights start because owners think that their dogs are “just playing around,” but when you see a dog present this cue, it’s time to calm everyone down and give everyone a little break for a bit.

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    Muschamp can exemplify the dominant aggressive flawlessly.

  2. Fearful Aggressive: The dog’s back is lowered, as if he is trying to do an army crawl. The hackles are still raised, and even though his lips are curled back, not as many teeth are showing here. His or her ears will be back- this is a crucial difference between a fearful aggressive and a dominant aggressive.
  3. Fearful and worried: The dog will usually be licking the air or licking the dog that is causing it fear. His or her paw will be up as if to show a signal of surrender. In cases of complete fear, the dog will just roll over on his or her back, with the tail in between the legs. This is the “fetal position” for an anxious dog.

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Getting their leg humped by a dog is not everyone’s favorite pastime. It makes for an awkward introduction…or should I say PAWkward! (This needs to stop.) Getting your dog spayed or neutered decreases their urge to hump immensely. (Not to mention, it also saves from a litter of homeless pups!) But even dogs that have uh…lost their sexual abilities are still prone to hump on occaision. This is because humping, for them, does not necessarily mean the same thing that it does to us humans. For them, it’s equivalent to rams headbutting, or peacocks fanning out their beautiful feathers. Or even a group of frat boys smashing beer cans on their heads. It is simply a statement of dominance. So, not to worry…your dog does love you. But just not that kind of love…


I work at a kennel, and owners will ask us about this all the time, with an embarrassed forced laugh, and a blushing face. Well after working around animals for a while, you tend to be completely unfazed by pretty much everything. (Cleaning up a 114lb Saint Bernard’s projectile vomit kind of changes you.)

When your dog “scoots,” he/she is not doing some groovy canine ritual or interpretive dance. This is actually an important health sign, and a potential trip to the vet if your pup is a frequent scooter. The technical term for scooting is actually called Manual Expression.

I’m going to really try to not go into that much detail here, but this is a way for your dog to relieve his or her anal glands. Charming, right?! A great factoid for an awkward first date. Bottom line is: if your dog is a regular scooter, it might be time to call the vet.


This one is pretty important. A lot of owners get concerned by this behavior, and rightfully so. Coughing can present a wide range of meanings. Anything from a hairball (especially if your dog has long, shaggy hair), to a lodged object, to kennel cough, or a bacterial infection.

If he or she is coughing on occasion, there is likely nothing to be worried about. This is an animal with an extremely powerful nose- it can sniff about five times per second. So, an occasional cough or two is usually just a product of a common “excited sniff.” (Did the humans make bacon again today??)

If the coughing is persistent, or accompanied with fever (check under his or her arms to see if they are hot), lethargic behavior, vomiting or heaving- this could be serious. Kennel cough is an infection that affects dogs (usually puppies), that are social or might share a water bowl with another dog or group of dogs. It could also be a very unfortunate and hard-to-treat condition, known as heartworms. To prevent heartworms from even starting, you can start your dog on an inexpensive monthly heartworm treatment, and make sure that he stays away from drinking stagnant water- a breeding zone for mosquito larvae.

If you are thinking of adopting a dog, it is so crucial that you are able to read some of the above important cues that they give off. Also, it’s pretty dope to be able to communicate with an animal in some way. Nigel Thornberry said it best, “Smashing!”

Clearly I need to go to bed now. *winks eye*

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Woah, man.


With a wagging tail,

Hillary and Humphrey





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