If Only Dogs Could Meow: What Dogs, And Many of Us, Don’t Understand About Communication

Yesterday afternoon my sister, my daughters and I went to the SPCA (animal shelter) to look for a dog.  As soon as we entered the dog area some of the dogs began to bark and those dogs continued to bark the entire time we were in the area. Eventually there were so many large dogs barking that it was almost painful to be in that section of the shelter at all.  At another shelter in the area the dogs were outside and only one barked continually.  Those quiet dogs got much more attention from us than the loud ones.



I understand that the dogs who were barking were probably just saying, “Hey, look over here!  I’m a nice dog! Pay attention to me please!”  This may be the message they intend, but it is certainly not the message that comes across to the prospective pet owner.


After looking at the dogs my


daughters insisted on visiting the cats, and by contrast the rooms were quiet.  In these rooms cats lay quietly in their cages or loose in bigger rooms, many asleep and some coming to the front of the cage to get attention.  Some got our attention by “talking” with pleasant little meows or purrs and I commented that I like the ones who talk the best.  There is so much expressed in the intonation of a cats meow and there are few whose voices would make a person turn their back and leave the room.



Obviously, the animals are only able to make the sounds their bodies are designed for, but beyond that, how is it that cats understand the art of quiet and dogs don’t?


In general, dogs care much more about their people than do cats.  Most dogs, who prefer to live in packs, want their people around as much as possible.  Most cats like to have people available for feeding and the occasional itch scratching, but otherwise are perfectly content on their own.  If only the dogs at the shelter could meow rather than bark!


Have you ever noticed that in human communication there are those who bark and those who meow?  It isn’t, in this case, a matter of tone of voice, although some people are louder than others.  Soft-spoken people can bark just as much as people with louder voices.  People who bark choose more aggressive ways of expressing things, harsher vocabulary and more confrontational style, while others just sound to others like they are barking when they don’t mean to be.   I have a friend who is constantly misunderstood as being angry and mean, when she is really just intending to be humourous.  In the end, if our message is positive or negative, it will only get across if we are able to figure out how it sounds to the hearers.  I can say, “I hate you, and I’m going to kill you!” in a perfectly gentle tone of voice but that doesn’t mean it is a gentle thing to say.  By contrast, I could shout, “I love you and I always want the best for you!” in a very aggressive manner.  In the end, if you don’t understand the language I am using, my message will not get through to you.


For the dogs in the shelter, they would do better if they could understand that people don’t understand barking as enthusiasm and welcome, but rather find it threatening.  They would need to say the exact same thing, but in a quieter, gentler manner.  In general, we would do better in our interactions with people we love, and even with those we do not like at all, with more attention to the sound of the words we are saying, and to the intent rather than the tone of those we hear.



The above pictured animals are eagerly awaiting new homes and can be seen and adopted from the Oromocto Area SPCA 

Ashton is a 2 year old neutered male tan and black shepherd mix. He
most likely has some husky in him as well as he has 2 different colored
eyes..one brown and one blue. Ashton is a young dog so he requires a family who
will make sure he gets lots of exercise! He is a very social boy who is eager to

Ashton’s adoption fee includes his first vaccines, deworming, flea
 treatment, neuter and microchipping.
NBSPCA license #0184 

Gideon is a 3 year old neutered male shepherd mix. He is a very
gentle soul and he is wonderful with other animals and with everyone that he
 meets. He is housetrained and he hopes to find a family that he can truly call
his own.
Gideon’s adoption fee includes first vaccines, deworming, flea
 treatment, neuter and microchipping.
NBSPCA license #0184 

Shirley is a 2 and a half year old spayed female all gray cat.
Shirley would most likely do best in a home with no other cats as she likes to
be the center of attention. She is wonderful with people!
Shirley’s adoption fee includes her first vaccines, deworming, flea
 treatment, spay and microchipping.
NBSPCA license #0184 

Buffett is a 6 year old neutered male orange tabby with white. He is
a very sweet and quiet guy and he loves attention. Buffett would love to find a
home where he can have the best of both worlds…a lap to cuddle in…and time
to lay around and just be the cat that he is.
Buffett’s adoption fee includes his first vaccines, deworming, flea
 treatment, neuter and microchipping.
NBSPCA license #0184

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