The Social Nature of Dogs and How They Lost Their 'Language'
Dogs are naturally packed animals. This means they are social beings that thrive being in the company of other dogs. In the wild, canines lived in packs to survive. They hunted, played, ate, and slept with other dogs for most of the day. They depended on each other for obtaining the resources necessary to survive. Each pack had a leader that covered the role of an authoritarian decision-maker and pack members were well aware of this role and respected it accordingly.
Disadvantages of Living in a Human Pack
In a domestic setting, dogs see their human owners as members of the pack. In ideal settings, the dog knows well that the owner is the ultimate leader. Owners can establish leadership through leadership exercises and other methods used to demonstrate that the owner is the main decision-maker and controls resources.
While living and spending most of the time in the company of human companions is a good thing, dogs tend to lose their social language with other dogs when not allowed to spend enough time with their canine counterparts. Ideally, dogs should be socialized and used to being around other dogs since puppyhood. This is why puppy classes and continued obedience training classes are highly recommended.
However, not all owners are diligent enough to expose their puppies to other dogs and ensure positive interactions throughout their life. This may ultimately be what causes some dogs to start to exhibit inter-species aggression, that is, aggression towards other dogs.
Lack or Loss of Fluency in Dog Language
Back in the wild, dogs learn to communicate with one another from an early age. Through calming signals, dogs are capable of sending signals of peace towards one another and therefore avoid conflicts.
A dog may turn the head around to avoid a confrontation, slightly close the eyelids to signal peace, or yawn and lick the lips to communicate discomfort. Through calming signals and indicators of stress, dogs are capable of communicating peaceful intentions to avoid confrontations or signals that they are getting stressed and nervous by approaches they do not appreciate.
Trouble starts when dogs become 'illiterate' in dog language. Deprived of social contact with its species, dogs may see other dogs as a threat. They may be incapable of interpreting calming signals from other dogs, or they may have lost their ability in communicating them. In distress, they go into a fight or flight mode and therefore exhibit aggression, since they do not know how or no longer know how to behave themselves around other dogs.
The main problem occurs when owners unknowingly punish their dogs for using calming signals. An owner may yell at a puppy for misbehaving; the puppy feeling threatened and scared, may give a calming signal, (in this case a yawn) only causing the owner to feel more frustrated, so the puppy is punished further. The puppy in short believes it's being punished for using the calming signal and may refrain from using it in its future interactions with its owners and other dogs.
How to Teach Dog Language Again?
It may take a while for dogs to learn how to communicate again. This is why it is helpful to expose these dogs to other dogs more than depriving them of social contact once and for all in fear they may hurt a dog one day.
Of course, it is fundamental to expose such dogs to very stable tempered dogs who are capable of teaching dog language again. These are dogs who are capable of effectively communicating through calming signals. This should be accomplished under the guidance and supervision of an experienced dog trainer or reputable dog behaviorist.
Exposed for a good time to other dogs again, illiterate dogs may learn dog language again. Dogs learn to live in a pack once again and become comfortable around other dogs. Once capable of communicating again, dogs may return to being the social creatures they were meant to be.