LOS ANGELES - Wags and barks speak volumes when it comes to understanding what a dog is saying, but there are also clues in a dog's eyes, ears, nose or the tilt of its head. Are humans getting the right messages?
Dr. Gary Weitzman, president of the San Diego Humane Society and former CEO of the Washington Animal Rescue League, has worked with tens of thousands of stray dogs over the last quarter century and says there is no question that pets and people communicate, but some are getting more out of it than others.
"Dogs want to be with us and they want to do the right thing. Nothing is ever done by a dog for spite or revenge. That's a human quality. Dogs just want to please us," Weitzman said. "So don't misunderstand what dogs are saying."
Jerry Ericksen of Los Angeles has two dogs and they have different needs that require different languages. Forest, a pit bull that was abused and starved before Ericksen got him, is still super timid and spends his time at the dog park hiding under Ericksen's chair.
"I talk to him in a smooth, gentle voice. He's very cooperative. He's very content," Ericksen said.
Buster is a 90-pound blind boxer. "When I call him, I yell out his name and keep clapping so he can zero in on where I am," Ericksen said. "If he starts to walk into something, I will yell 'stop' and he will change direction."
Buster has only been around Forest for six months, but they communicate, too.
"When we come home from the dog park, Forest will go in first, walk 10 feet and wait. When I take the collar and leash off Buster, Forest takes over and guides him to the yard," Ericksen said.
Weitzman's book, "How to Speak Dog," was just released by the National Geographic Society and the veterinarian hopes it will help people better grasp what their dogs are saying so they can respond better.
When man first meets mutt, it is up to the person to eliminate hostility. In the exam room, Weitzman will often get on the floor with a dog to reduce any threats.
That has certainly worked for year-old Van Leifer-Nau of San Diego. That's where he sits, sleeps, plays and dotes on year-old Neiko, a yellow lab and Saluki mix, said mom Tamara Leifer-Nau.
"Neiko loves this baby, it's like Van is his baby. They love each other and Neiko goes in for as many kisses as he can get. They are inseparable. They are communicating at a completely different level," Leifer-Nau said.
"Dogs read lips and body language. They can see your facial expression. Some animals respond to how we look, not what we say. Their inherent ability to read facial expressions is a whole lot better than ours," Weitzman said.
The other dog in the Leifer-Nau house is Oakley, a border collie mix the family rescued 13 years ago this month. He goes to the door and literally talks dog when he wants out, Leifer-Nau said.
You have to make sure a dog can hear when you talk, Weitzman said. Some dogs are born deaf or go deaf with age. Long ears make hearing more of a chore. Those dogs also don't have the ability to talk with their ears because they can't prick them, cock them or pin them back.
"Every once in a while, a dog will come along that just seems to 'get' you. You think it even reads your mind," Weitzman said. "I really think these animals are soul mates. I had a dog I know was my soul mate. I understood her with a look and she understood me with a look back."
Cambria Hankin of Los Angeles treats Buddy, Stitch and Riah, her three Chihuahua mixes, like they were her children.
Buddy is the stubborn one. "You might have to stare at him when he puts his foot down." Hankin said. It usually happens when Buddy doesn't want to leave if they are visiting. "I have to say, 'Don't make me count to three. When I get to three, he knows his time is up. So I know they understand me," she said.
She might use baby talk to ask: "Who is mama's favorite boy?" she'll ask and Buddy knows that answer, too.
"They are like kids. They just can't talk in words. But they know how to push the limits to see how far they can go," she said.