Dog speak: Teddy finds his voice

In December 2014 Teddy, a sweet rescued Lab, joined me, my husband, Ed, and my daughter, Jordan.

Teddy exhibited typical dog behaviors except for one, barking. Not one bark, growl or howl did we hear the first two weeks he lived with us.


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His greetings were nonverbal. Teddy wiggled his rump, wagged his tail and shook his shoulders.

The first time we witnessed this unusual greeting, Ed laughed. “He’s doing the Hokey Pokey.”

Jordan’s nose squinched. “Hokey what?”

“The Hokey Pokey. You put your right foot in. You put your right foot out. You put your right foot in and you shake it all about. He’s just doing it with different body parts,” Ed demonstrated.

“Sheesh. But why is he shaking all about?” I asked.

Ed shrugged. “Teddy’s happy to meet people?”

I shrugged back. “Could be. Teddy looks happy.”

We took Teddy to the vet.

Teddy greeted the humans in the vet’s office lobby in his usual Hokey Pokey fashion. But with dogs his hair on his neck raised and then he growled.

As he growled his tail wagged and his rump wiggled. He looked confused.“What’s he doing?” Jordan instinctually stroked Teddy’s back.

“Don’t have a clue. Teddy doesn’t seem to be angry,” I offered.

Ed held securely the dog’s leash. “No clue here, either. Teddy does look nervous.”

Thankfully, Teddy’s name was called and we ushered him into a examination room. The physical went well.

The doctor asked if we had concerns.

“Teddy has yet to bark. Around other dogs the hair on his back raises, he growls, while wagging his tail and wiggling his rump,” Ed explained.

Stroking Teddy’s head, our veterinarian explained that as a rescue, Teddy may not have been exposed to adult dogs as a young puppy. Socializing Teddy with other dogs would be important.

Fortunately, Teddy was already signed up for obedience classes with a pet trainer at the Centerville Petsmart.

Training classes at home were with Brittany Jones of a training company.

After temperament assessments, both trainers said Teddy was a sweet dog clueless in the ways of “dog speak.”

In the first few obedience classes, Teddy was nervous. His first communication toward his classmates was with his neck’s back hair raised and growling with a little tail wagging and rump wiggling.

Slowly, Teddy’s Hokey Pokey routine began to be the dominate greeting.

Brittany set up puppy play dates. She brought dogs with good temperaments to meet, greet and play with Teddy.

First up was Cairo, a German shepard, the same age as Teddy. At their first meeting, Cairo walked up to Teddy and licked him on the nose. Teddy’s rump, tail and shoulders wiggled.

When Cairo came the next week, Teddy mirrored Cairo’s greeting from the first play date.

Teddy started barking, too. He barked “Hello” at the trash collectors, mailman and United Postal Service delivery driver. The pooch barked when the doorbell rang.

As Teddy graduated to Petsmart’s intermediate class his confidence grew. The Hokey Pokey was always a part of his greeting but the growling was disappearing.

When we walked into Petsmart’s advance class five girl pups and their owners were already there.

Teddy, in full Hokey Pokey form, confidently wiggled up to each of the girls. He planted a big sloppy lick on each of their noses.

Teddy the dog clueless in “dog speak” had become “Teddy the Don Juan.”

Teddy had found his voice.

Karin Spicer, a magazine writer, has been entertaining families for more than 20 years. She lives in Bellbrook with her family and two furry animals all who provide inspiration for her work. She can be reached at

Main dog communication signals

1. Sniffing signals

2. Sounds

3. Tactile signals

4. Visual signals


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