As far as animal communication goes, there’s still a lot to learn. But one thing we can be sure of is that language, in its many variations and forms, exists throughout the animal kingdom.
However, following our former posts, let’s focus on our canine companions. When it comes to communication, dogs have a very specific language to express whether they’re happy or excited or upset when facing other dogs. Barking is one way of expressing themselves. Bark tone or pitch lets other dogs know what’s going on, whether your dog wants to play or when it means a threatening bark. But also, body gestures such as wagging their tails (dog owners can recognize when the wagging means “get away” or “I’m happy to see you”), or lying belly-up can let other pooches know what your dog’s intentions are. This is how they interact, this is how they communicate.
The latter are signals they send which can be very useful when interacting with either a dog, or a dog owner who has a hearing or speech impediment. You could even say this is a sort of doggy sign language. Both the person and the dog in this situation are able to understand it. As a counterpart to a dog owner with some level of impairment, a deaf dog, although they may not be able to read your lips, will be able to read your body language, and most certainly sign commands.
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts regarding canine communication, voice commands have to be very specific. Because dogs understand both pitch and intonation, some sort of “canine prosody,” as well as some words, which are learned through training and repetition, they can know what you are asking them to do. But on the other hand, sign language can be equally if not more effective than verbal commands.
Again, this requires patience and repetition. Just imagine a situation where a person with a speech impediment wants to have a dog. Would this person be able to train this dog? Absolutely! If the dog owner cannot “call” the dog, there are different resources available. Whistles, clicking or even clapping can do the trick. Once the dog has your attention, you can start hand-signaling your commands. In the case where the dog is the one with a hearing impediment, then it is not advisable to let the dog run free, but rather keep it by your heel or at leash distance.
A study conducted in Italy evaluated a group of dogs who were given both verbal and hand-signal cues, and it showed that 99% of the dogs in the study answered more effectively to hand-signal commands. And this is not hard to believe, since, as we mentioned at the beginning, dogs use body language to communicate with each other, as it expresses more than a barking handful of tones and pitches.
Body language and hand-signals are the best way of communicating you can use with your pooch. And hopefully, this will help bring down the myth that hearing impaired humans and/or animals, cannot be companions to each other.