As pack animals, dogs work together exceptionally well. They are great communicators even though they can only howl, growl, bark, and whine. It seems like a pretty limited vocabulary, but that’s not the half of it. Dogs have more than just verbal cues to go off of when they ‘talk’ to each other. Over the years, I’ve become an amateur enthusiast where doggy communication is concerned, and I’ll share my knowledge, plus what the experts have to say.
How do dogs communicate with each other? Body language is one of the dog’s most important communication tools. From pointing to covering their nose with a paw, your dog is telling tales without ever saying a word. Always pay attention to canine posture and paws if you want to know what they’re thinking.
Speaking Dog: How Canines Communicate
- Body Language- From ear posture to the way they set their feet, dogs talk with their bodies.
- Olfactory Input- Whether it’s hormones, territory marking, or sniffing a friend’s backside, scent is a huge part of doggy communication.
- Sound- A growl means no, or get away, while a woof can say ‘hello or I see you.’ Dogs don’t use words like humans, but they certainly have voices to talk with.
Doggy Body Language
We all know what a tail wag from our dog communicates… or do we? Canine body language is a complicated and often befuddling thing. Rest assured, they are indeed talking to you with their actions. There’s not much a dog does that isn’t a direct statement about how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking at the moment.
When you look at doggy communication, start with the eyes. The ‘eyebrow’ region can show you almost as much about a canine as it does a human. Incredulity, anger, and surprise are all easy enough to recognize. Watch for dilated pupils, or a faraway gaze to show you where your dog’s focus is at any time.
For the best view of what your pet is saying with their body, outstanding grooming is necessary. Don’t let a shaggy coat keep you from reading between the lines. I suggest picking up a Scaredy Cut Silent Pet Grooming Kit from Amazon. The quiet alternative to clippers helps keep your pooch from freaking out over a simple haircut. You can use it between visits to the groomer or go full DIY with this surprisingly effective, silent option. Find out more when you click here.
Emotional Dog Posturing
Your pet dogs’ body language breaks down into basic categories of emotional reactions. Your pup will give you all the cues you need to tell how they feel. These aren’t the only signals a canine can provide with their bodies, but they are a decent overview.
Upright ears, facing forward, curled back lips and bared teeth are a sign of aggression. The body will typically be stiff or even quivering, and the tail motion will also be rigid.
A horizontal tail that sticks out and ears that twitch ever so slightly like your dog is trying to catch some tiny sound are indications of interest and alertness. Your dog may lean forward on their legs, almost as though they’re going up on tiptoe.
Cowering, shaking, and a low, slinking posture are all signs of doggy terror. If you’re lucky, you’ll only ever see this if your pet freaks out on New Years’ and Fourth of July.
An openmouthed doggy grin, lolling tongue, and floppy wagging tail that is biased to the right is a traditional indication that your pooch is overjoyed.
When your dog has widely dilated pupils, uncontrollable drool, and tends to jump up, hug, and dry hump things, their intent is pretty clear.
Bowing forward with the chest and front legs, wagging happy tail, a huge grin, and quick leaping motions combined usually mean your canine companion is trying to get you to play with them. It’s an invitation to get crazy, chase, and wrestle around.
Dogs with slightly open mouths, lazing around, basking in the sunshine are cheerful, relaxed creatures.
When dogs roll on to their bellies, not for a good scratch, but in a cringing manner, with half-closed eyes and slightly exposed teeth, it’s the ultimate sign of frightened resignation. In short, they give up.
Paying close attention to the hints your dog gives in body language can save you a lot of trouble and confusion. Watching for signs of stress and anger in dogs is an excellent way to keep yourself from getting hurt, even by accident. Likewise, responding to a playful or relaxed mood can bring you closer to your pet and build a special bond.
Body language that is taught by humans doesn’t fall into the general categories of emotional posturing that come naturally to your dog. ‘Play dead,’ for example, is more of an opossum behavior than a doggy instinct. However, you are the alpha in their pack, and if you ask your dog to learn to bow, or skateboard, they’ll do it to make you happy.
Reading learned behavior is all about knowing what the dog learned and why. Drug sniffing dogs are often taught a specific cue that isn’t barking, like digging motions. There’s no reason a casual observer could or should interpret that correctly.
Marking Territory & Other Scent-Speech
There’s no doubt that dogs communicate by scent. They mark territory, lick each other’s pee puddles in a manner that lets them better understand each other through specialized glands in the snout that translate the smell. Moreover, they respond to mating hormones. Hence, it may surprise you to learn that there are relatively few studies about doggy scent communication. We know they can ‘say’ some things to one another with smells.
Dogs who are social with other dogs sniff rears to say hello. It’s likely also a sign of trust to let someone that close to your tender parts. What else do we know about olfactory communication between dogs? Not much.
Females give off pheromones when they’re in heat. Male dogs smell this and respond by mating. Scientists believe that in addition to marking out their territory, dogs also establish their rank within groups by scent.
When Dog Scent Communication Goes Bad
Unfortunately for humans, our noses are forty to a hundred times less effective at learning from odors. When your puppy piddles or your older dog marks, it just smells awful. The good news is that you don’t need to live with it if you act quickly. What about when you miss a spot, and you can’t find it to get it cleaned up?
Instead of guessing, make sure you got the whole mess. You don’t need to scrub an entire room to get every drop. Grab a pack of Escolite UV Flashlights for detecting dog urine. You can keep them all around the house or give them to fellow pet-parents for the holidays. Click Here for prices and availability.
Yip, Woof & Growl: Talking Dogs
Dog verbal communication is more complicated than it seems on the first inspection. A yawn can mean your dog is relaxed around you, or it can indicate they’re feeling anxious about someone or something new. Similarly, sighing has two opposite meanings. If your dog’s eyes are closed, then it means they’re content. Open-eyed sighing is a sign of annoyance, disappointment, or displeasure.
Barks and yips are a whole language that takes time to understand. There’s no shortcut to learning it all. Mother dogs use one short sharp bark to tell puppies they need to knock it off. Alternately, there are barks to say hi, and sound various alarms that warn pack members or family that something is wrong. There are even barks that indicate playfulness, surprise, and having a good time.
Growling and howling usually have opposite meanings as well. Growls are warnings to get away, stop, or otherwise be warned that a dog is not pleased with what’s going on. Howls, on the other hand, almost always indicate loneliness. However, a howl can also be a call for help.
A whining dog can communicate several things, but none of them are good news. Sorrow, fear, and pain are the most common reasons for whining. Dogs may also whine while they submit to a more dominant pack member, like asking for mercy.
Better Communication (With Your Dog) Through Technology
All pet owners talk to their dogs. We may not be speaking the same language, but we try. Plus, dogs are smart and can certainly learn more than a few human words over time. There’s more you can do to speak to your dog than teaching them to sit and praising them when they’re a ‘good boy.’
When the neighbors complain that your dog barks all day, it can be a sign of trouble. Luckily, we live in an era full of wonderful technological toys. You can install a pet nanny cam to see what your dog is up to when you’re gone, but why not take it a step further and interact with your dog remotely?
The best way to not only know what they’re up to but also give them rewards or just say ‘hi,’ is the WOpet Smart Pet Camera & Dog Treat Dispenser. The picture quality on your smartphone is great, and it has a speaker so you can genuinely speak to your dog no matter how far away you are. With night vision and a treat dispenser, it’s as close as you can get to being home with them. Find out more by clicking here.
You can sit and speak with your dog if you take the time to learn how. Reading doggy body language and learning their sounds isn’t as hard as speaking English. With a little patience and motivation, you can understand your dog.
A human nose won’t be able to grasp the nuances of dogs’ scent communication. It means we’re going to miss some of what our pets have to say. Fortunately, most people are completely okay with that. Not sniffing a dog’s butt is a good thing.
Emotions and reactions mostly drive canine communication. That means it’s limited to relatively few ‘words and phrases,’ and you can become an expert dog translator if you want.