Understanding How Your Dog Communicates To You
Dogs are amazing. They are considered man’s best friend and really love their humans more than life itself. There have been movies about how amazing dogs are and how they enrich the lives of everyone they touch.
So it’s no surprise that dogs rock. But happens when you actually own a dog, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Yes, owning a dog has so many rewarding moments and so many instances where you can just feel the love.
But let’s face the reality, as of right now, we don’t speak the same language. They can understand usually at least 10 human words, sometimes more depending on the breed and the dog. That means a lot of the other 99,999+ words that we use every day go over your dog’s head.
On the other side of things, we also can understand very little as to what our dog is trying to tell us. So how do our dogs communicate with us? We know we can do a lot of communicate with them, but what about on the other end.
Well, I decided to talk about the eight ways our dogs try to communicate with us, and how we can understand their communication “techniques”. Some of these are obvious whiles others may make you more skeptical. So, let’s see how many of these surprise you!
Watch Their Tails!
Any of you that read my posts, you know I LOOOVE to start with the most obvious one first. (Because, let’s face it, you all are thinking it. And nothing is more frustrating than going onto a blog post looking for help only to find out everything is what you already know! Am I the only one who deals with that?) Sorry, mini rant right there.
But yes, first is their tails. Their tails can tell you so much and that is usually the initial key to understand what your dog is trying to tell you. A tail that is pointing up and moving back and forth (a wagging tail) is a very good sign that your puppy is happy and/ or excited.
On the opposite end, if your dog has its tail in between their legs, then that is a pretty good indication that your dog is fearful of something. In some breeds, a tail pointed straight could also mean they are focused or hunting prey. Again this tail action varies by dog breeds as some were bred to be hunters and some were bred to be family dogs.
Finally, if your dog has a relaxed tail, then that means they are usually relaxed. Pretty self-explanatory and easy to tell in most dogs, but what if your dog has a small tail? Or what if they don’t use their tail as much as other dogs? Can you still understand what they are saying?
Of course! Or else I would just have the ONE thing dogs do to communicate with you. Silly gooses.
The Eyes are a Window to The Soul
The saying above is so extremely true. Eyes can tell humans a lot of things. Sadness, excitement, boredom. And while sometimes humans will look longingly into another human’s eyes to show love, dogs may not deem it the same way.
Some dogs view eye contact as a means to stake dominance, while others view it as plain rude. Eye contact can be confusing and is a much more complex topic that I will discuss on its own in another post but I will touch on it now.
When it comes to eye contact, think about the type of dog you are looking at. No., not the breed. Think of it more as if it is YOUR dog who knows you or an unfamiliar dog. In both situations, “staring” contests are never a good idea as dogs see that as a dominance determination.
Your dog, though, can also stare at you when he or she wants attention, rubs, your food, or for you to get up. There has been a level of trust built up and the leader of the pack has probably already been determined. (Hopefully, it’s you!) Once the dominance factor is no longer an issue, eye contact is normally a more endearing form of communication.
I could easily go on and on for this section, but the main thing I want you to get out of the eye contact portion of communication is this: When a dog is staring at you, staring back begins a competition of dominance. Unfamiliar dogs will see this as rude, and possibly aggressive, so it’s best to analyze the dog in ways OTHER than only eye contact.
The Bark of A Dog: Happy or Alarming?
Dogs barking are really their main vocal form of communicating with us. So is a dog barking out of happiness? Trying to alarm you of something? Or just wanting to play? The chances are it could be any one of those things. It’s like a baby crying, the possibilities are endless.
Unlike babies though, dogs do change their pitch up to help distinguish what their bark is trying to tell humans. A low pitched bark, often associated with a growl that we will talk about below, is an indication of fear or anger. A higher pitch is usually more of an indication to come closer to the dog.
Another thing to take into consideration is the frequency of the bark. If you are petting your dog or throwing a toy and your dog is still barking, then they are probably trying to alarm you of something. If your dog is barking and rolls over onto its back, it probably wants a belly rub.
Using the pitch of the dog, along with body language that we will discuss below, can help you better interpret your dog’s communication to you.
The Growling Sound You Hear
There is something very distinctive about the sound of a growling dog. Humans know it, other dogs know it. A growl is a warning sign. It is a sign too back off, back away, or leave them alone. That is a pretty obvious sign for most people.
If you see a growling dog, unless he or she is your own dog, I would recommend proceeding with caution. The dog is scared or anger and is warning you to give them the space they need. If you ignore this as a sign of confusion or playful behavior, you are asking for a possible bite or scratch.
Dogs need to protect themselves too, and their growl is a way of telling you to back off before they act upon protecting themselves. Think of it as a police officer telling a criminal to put their hands up. That is a dog’s growl. They are warning us, humans, that, and if we back away, then we are giving them space they are asking for.
The Body Language of a Scared Dog
A scared dog is sometimes very obvious to some people, and sometimes there are harder identifiers. A dog shaking, curling into a ball, and whimpering is a sign of a very scared dog. Ugh, just typing that made me want to hug the example dog.
If you see a dog with their tail tucked between their legs and exhibiting one of the body language behaviors I just spoke of, you have a scared dog on your hand. Your dog is trying to let whoever is near known that they are scared.
Scared dogs are hard to predict because they could act in a number of ways. They could become violent out of fear trying to protect themselves, they could run, or they could accept the help you are trying to give it. Part of their reaction depends on their past and a lot on the dog itself.
If you come across a scared dog, understand that they are using their body to let you know they are scared and they react that happens next is not an indication of you personally, more just out of fear. And while I will just touch briefly on what how dogs communicate fear with us, I do have another blog post that goes into more details on How to tell if Your Dog is scared. This is a great read for anything who thinks they may be dealing with a fearful dog.
The Body Language of a Happy Dog
A happy dog is something that is usually very obvious to people. They have a relaxed body language, their posture is not hunched or fearful, and there is no growling anywhere to be seen. Some dog breeds will even “wiggle” when they are really excited and a few breeds will accidentally pee a little depending on their excitement levels.
Often these body languages are partnered with other factors such as barking or wagging their tails. Sometimes untrained dogs can also jump and lick you all over. This does not mean they are trying to attack you. Most of the time they are just trying to give you hugs and kisses and don’t think about their size or alarming behavior
To use the human analogy like I always like to do, think of your dog as a toddler who hasn’t seen you in a few days. How excited are they to see you when you come walking up?! Chances are they are going to run to you, hug you, kiss you and shower you with love. Dogs are the same way. They just can’t hug you and kiss you. So they jump and lick you to shower you with love.
Dogs are interesting creatures. The most fine-tuned sense is their sense of smell. So a lot of times dogs will sniff to get to know you. Dogs, cats, and humans all have sensory glands that indicate a person’s “scent”. That scent is a little similar to your fingerprint. It can tell your age, sex, and health in your sensory glands.
Humans use our words and our eyes to learn about other humans but dogs are not so lucky. Instead, they are able to use their sensory glands to learn about their humans, as well as other dogs.
So when a dog comes up to you and starts sniffing you, it is their way of learning more about you. Whether it be where you were, who you were with, how your health is. Dogs are able to pick up so much information from their noses! It is like they are asking us questions without us having to give the answers! So when your dog is sniffing you, or another dog, don’t get mad. Your puppy is just trying to get to know their potential new friends or family members.
Licking – The Saliva of Love
Why do dogs lick you? The long answer or the short answer? I’ll stick with the short answer for now, because even my short answers tend to be fairly long for some people. In short, dogs lick you as a way to show their love and affection towards you.
Think of licking similarly to kissing. Dogs lick you similarly to how people would kiss you. Well, not completely. Dogs are much more willing to lick strangers than most people are willing to kiss human strangers. But the overall concept is the same.
If you are nice to the dog, showing it love and care, they usually want to thank you by giving you a kiss. Almost never, will you see an angry dog licking you as a way to let you know they are mad? (Actually, if anyone has experienced that, please let me know, that would be so interesting to hear about).
In conclusion, just because dogs and humans don’t speak the same language doesn’t mean they don’t try their hardest to communicate with us! We just have to know what they are trying to say. Dogs are one of the special types of animals that will try in more than one way to let you know how they are feeling. Whether it be wagging their tails and barking excitedly, or growling and putting their tail between their legs.
Rarely do dogs only give you one way, and once instance to understand what they are trying to tell us to help us out. Their patience level with us is quite high. Much higher than ours in most cases.
So with that part being said, I think we all need to take a step back and try life through a dog’s eyes for a moment. If you are trying to communicate with your pet (or heck even another person) and they don’t seem to be understanding what you are saying, try another way. Don’t give up, dogs don’t. They continue trying to communicate with their humans until it connects and both sides are happy.