Understanding Dog Language, How Dogs Communicate

 

Oh, if only our dogs could talk! Well, maybe not… maybe they would say something we don’t want to hear! But if you’re wondering what your dog is trying to communicate, it pays to learn to read your dog’s body language. Understanding dog language can help.

 

dogs communicate humans

 

Most of a dog’s communication is through body language with a bit of vocalization. Some signals are obvious, and some subtle.

 

There will be some challenges regarding specific signals such as “tail down” with dogs whose tails have been docked or whose tails are naturally curved upward… which means you have to read the whole message— the whole body— and not just the tail. But with a little practice, you’ll be able to tell what your furry friend is telling you. what does it mean when a dog wags its tail

 

What Your Dog Is Saying, Dog Body Language Meanings

 

  1. “I’m relaxed, I’m approachable, be my friend.” This dog is happy and feeling sociable. Dogs exhibit this behavior both toward dogs and people.

 

  • Ears up
  • Head high
  • Tail down and relaxed, or wagging fast side to side or in circles
  • Backside or whole-body wiggle
  • Mouth slightly open and tongue slightly exposed
  • A loose, relaxed stance with weight balanced on all fours
  • May roll over on back and invite a belly rub (showing trust and initiating social contact)

 

  1. “Play with me!” Dogs invite each other, and humans, to play.

 

  • Ears up
  • Tail up, may be waving, or wagging side to side or in circles
  • Pupils dilated
  • Mouth open, tongue out
  • A brief “downward dog” position (tail in the air, elbows lowered to the ground) before resuming exuberant running, play attacks, or jumping
  • May bark or yip excitedly
  • Backside or whole-body wiggle

 

Understanding Dog Language

Dog displaying playful body language; note open mouth showing unclenched teeth, wagging tail, and play bow posture

 

  1. “Pay attention to me, boss!” Your dog wants attention from you or a more dominant dog.

 

  • May lick the other dog’s muzzle or ear, or your face or hand
  • May jump up, alternating with lowering and curving the body and “scooting” toward you or another dog with a lowered hind end
  • Blinking eyes
  • May clack or expose teeth
  • May licking the lips
  • Lowered head and ears
  • “Downward dog” play bow

 

4. “What’s going on here?” The dog is alert, carefully assessing the situation. Something has captured her interest, or she’s faced with something unknown. Observe carefully and be ready to soothe and control her.

 

  • Ears forward and head cocked, catching every sound
  • Eyes wide open, catching every movement
  • Tail horizontal, but not stiff, and may be waving slightly side to side
  • Mouth closed
  • A ready-for-action stance: slight forward lean, weight on the toes
  • Anxious dogs may whine
  • Front paw lifted, anticipating action
  • May tremble

 

 

5. “Better watch yourself, I’m the boss!” This dog is displaying dominance and confidence and letting the other dog know that if his dominance is challenged, he will become aggressive. Unfortunately, some poorly trained dogs display this kind of dominant behavior with humans.

 

  • Ears up and forward
  • Tense face with wrinkled forehead and nose, curled lips, teeth and gums showing
  • Hard, staring eyes
  • Raised hackles
  • Tail up and stiff, may quiver or wag
  • Stiff-legged stance, defensive posture, weight forward and ready to spring
  • May growl
  • May display several levels of biting:
    • Air snapping (warning #1)
    • Snapping with skin contact (warning #2)
    • Fast nip (warning #3): a quick bite-and-release with bruising or slight wound
    • Deeper bite (forget the warnings, you didn’t listen, intent to harm)
    • Bite and hold: intent to cause serious harm
    • Bite, hold and shake: intent to seriously harm and/or kill

 

Aggressive Dog

Dog with ears erect means it is alerted and baring its teeth is a warning signal

 

6. “I’m scared. Take one more step toward me and I will bite you!” This dog is frightened, but not acting submissive. She’s just letting you, another dog, or any threatening individual know to not get anywhere near her.

 

  • Ears back
  • Raised hackles
  • Body lowered (cowering)
  • Tail tucked between the legs
  • Dilated pupils
  • Wrinkled nose
  • Lips slightly curled, with some teeth showing
  • Corner of mouth pulled back
  • May growl
  • May tremble
  • May display several levels of biting:
    • Air snapping (warning #1)
    • Snapping with skin contact (warning #2)
    • Fast nip (warning #3): quick bite-and-release with bruising or slight wound
    • Deeper bite (forget the warnings, you didn’t listen, intent to harm)
    • Bite and hold: intent to cause serious harm
    • Bite, hold and shake: intent to seriously harm and/or kill

 

Scared, Submissive Dog

Tail between legs, lying down, ears back, body tight – a submissive dog who is worried or frightened

 

7. “I’m worried! What are you going to do to me?” You may see this behavior if your dog has done something and knows she’s about to be punished, or if your dog is offering signs of submission to prevent conflict with a more dominant dog. dog body language ears

 

  • Ears back
  • Only brief and often indirect eye contact
  • Licking the face of a dominant dog, or the air (submission)
  • Corner of mouth pulled back
  • Body lowered (cowering)
  • May freeze
  • Tail down, tip may be wagging slightly
  • Sweaty paws
  • One paw raised
  • May whine
  • May yawn, scratch, sneeze or lick to self-soothe
  • May tremble
  • May hug you
  • Pacing or spinning

 

8. “I’m stressed! I don’t like this!” A common behavior at the vet, or any unfamiliar situation where the dog feels uncertain, scared and vulnerable. Be calm, soothing, and cautious as any stressed dog can bite! dog body language meanings

 

  • Ears back
  • Pupils dilated; dog may do a “whale eye” where he turns his head away, but shows the whites of the eyes as he keeps looking sideways at the perceived threat
  • Body lowered (cowering)
  • May freeze
  • Tail tucked between the legs
  • Rapid panting with the corners of the mouth pulled back
  • Sweaty paws
  • May whine, growl, or howl
  • May tremble
  • May hug you
  • Pacing or spinning

 

9. “I’m so scared! I wish I were invisible! Please don’t hurt me!” This dog is terrified, and has surrendered completely. He’s groveling before the higher-ranking dog or a threatening person (even you, if you’re very angry), hoping to avoid physical confrontation.

 

  • Ears flat and back
  • Head turned, to avoid direct eye contact
  • Eyes partly closed
  • Lying on the back, exposing the throat and belly
  • Tail is tucked
  • Corner of the mouth is pulled back
  • May pee a bit
  • May whine
  • May tremble

 

 

Dog Stress release

 

Like humans, dogs have a fight-freeze-flight response to any threat. Once the threat has gone, the dog may shake vigorously as if he were completely soaking wet.

 

Help for Stress and Anxiety

 

Understanding Dog Language – Context is everything!

how to communicate with dogs

These are general guidelines. Similar signals may mean something else in a different situation so be sure to look both at body position and vocalization to understand your dog’s emotional state and intentions. For example, many people think that a wagging tail means happiness and friendliness. Not always! Look at the rest of the body. A dog who is wagging but also barking, has a defensive body posture, tense face, and hard staring eyes is definitely unhappy and not approachable! But a rotor tail and a wiggly body signals playtime and friendliness. Unfortunately, dogs whose tails have been docked can’t communicate using the tail. This can mean missed signals and misinterpretations so remember: look at the context, and the rest of the dog’s body language and vocalizations to figure out what he’s trying to say.

 

Observation is the best way to determine what your dog is feeling and trying to communicate! how to communicate to your dog

 

Dog Language Books

 


 

Understanding Dog Language, Dog Communication – Please share your thoughts and experience with us.

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  1. Isn’t it amazing what our pooches can tell us with their body language. Every owner should be well versed in observing their dogs behaviour and responding accordingly. You’re article helps make doing exactly that, easy.

  2. Haha, I’m laughing at how true this is! You’ve got every point right it’s so much fun to know that we can relate in the community as dog owners. Having a great time learning from your blog! Observation truly is helpful to understanding our dogs. My dog likes rubbing his head on my leg to let me know he’s hungry! Haha, such a cutie. 🙂

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