Except for the occasional growl, whine or bark, dogs are creatures of silent communication.
A stare, the tilt of a head, cock of an ear, raising of the tail or turn of the body has incredible significance to other dogs. We humans are usually left scratching our heads -- at best, wondering what they are saying to each other and at worst, oblivious to their high degree of communication.
This silent canine communication starts when the pups are with their litter mates and mother. I exclude discussing the father's role in a pup's education because due to common breeding practices the males are rarely around to assist in raising a litter of pups. It's unfortunate as they have a great deal to contribute to a pup's socialization.
When a new puppy joins our home, we initially look at the fur-covered creature of a completely different species and wonder, "How on earth will I get this thing to listen to me when I can't talk to it?" Fortunately that's what obedience classes are for; but you don't have to wait until you get into an obedience class to start to communicate with your dog.
Our dogs begin communicating with us the moment we bring them into our homes and it all starts with a look.
That's it: a look. They look at us and we look back at them. They look at us with the question, "What do you want from me?" and we look back at them thinking: "What do you want from me?"
Our dogs look at us constantly when they are young. They are seeking direction and guidance, and too often we shrug our shoulders and think "I don't know what you want," and look away. Over time we stop looking at our dogs, and then they give up on looking at us for guidance. They start taking direction from themselves -- which leads them into trouble as the communication breakdown between dog and human occurs.
The best way to prevent a communication breakdown between your dog and you is to not let it happen in the first place. If a new puppy is in the home, praise it every time it looks up at you. Watch your puppy while on a walk and you will be surprised at how often it will look at you for guidance. We think they are checking in on us to make sure we haven't left them along the trail but they are actually asking "Is this right?"
I observed an adorable Rottweiler puppy sitting beside its two owners at a street corner. It looked up at both of them while they chatted with each other, oblivious of their little charge's attempt to communicate. All he was seeking was a pat on the head and praise for sitting at the curb but it went unnoticed and unrewarded.
To encourage communication between you and your dog practice silent communication exercises at home. This can be done with older dogs too and I especially encourage it for recycled dogs that have difficulty making eye contact with their new humans.
To do this, place your dog on a leash and wait. Don't say a word to your dog even if she fusses about you standing doing nothing while she's on-leash, simply wait patiently and silently for her to look at you. Puppies usually pick this up in moments while older dogs take a bit longer, requiring more patience on your part. The idea is to wait silently until your dog looks at you seeking communication. Once they do, you praise them. A treat can be used as a reward but I have always preferred praise over a treat for this communication exercise.
Within a short time of practicing this exercise, your dog will begin to look at you more often on a walk, in the house, even in your obedience class. This is your first step in leaning to talk to your dog.