“What’s in a Wag?: Decoding Dog Talk in DC”

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen two dog owners conversing over coffee at a dog park in blissful ignorance while their canine charges are about to go full metal on each other. That’s because most humans are not in tune to the subtleties of dogs’ language -- NOT ALL TAIL WAGS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Being armed with even a basic understanding of dog behavior could reduce the stress on the animals and increase their quality of life (always a challenge for city pets!), and help to avoid complications and confrontations with neighbors and other members of the community.

I study the co-evolution of humans and dogs, with a focus on social learning and nonverbal communication. I am working toward a PhD in the field (aka I’m a broke student), with the ultimate goals of a) continuing research; b) working directly with detection and service dogs; and c) educating the public about successful human-animal interactions. This project would be a big step toward achieving goals for the latter.

Part I: “Decoding Dog Talk” will comprise a series of pop-up “Tail Talk” tables at dog parks across the city (at least one in each ward), where I provide people with free information, diagrams and mini-demos to help them get a grasp on basic principles of dog behavior. The tables will also include a survey for participants to fill out, ranking their familiarity with various behavioral cues and asking questions. I volunteer with the Humane Rescue Alliance and would like to work with HRA or another local rescue group (City Dogs, Rural Dog Rescue, Lucky Dog Rescue) to help give them publicity while I am hosting my behavior tables, and to point owners to for more in-depth behavior classes and support, if needed.

Part II: The second element of the project will be the creation of a website to refer participants to for additional information, and where they can see how what they’ve learned compares to what people in the community think and know (based on survey results).

Funded by Washington, DC (September 2019)