How to Speak Your Dog’s Language

Your dog might not speak English, but there are many communication devices they use to let you know how they’re feeling.

Bark, bark means I’m hungry.

Bark, bark, bark means I want to go for a drive.

Whine, bark, whine means I have to go to the bathroom.

Bark, whine, whine, bark means I want to go for a walk.

Well, maybe not, but wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy!

It’s a fact that as much as we like to think we can calm our dogs down like no other, dogs will often feel more comfortable in the presence of another dog in a stressful situation. For example, during a groom.

Here are four signals you can look for that might help you understand your dog’s current frame of mind.

Let’s start with the face. When a dog is slightly stressed or hoping to calm another animal or a person down they will show many signals. One to keep an eye out for is a simple yawn. It doesn’t mean the dog is tired, it is more likely to indicate that it may be stressed out or excited. A lick of the lips is a very good indicator that the dog is potentially uncomfortable. The current situation is causing them to give this calming signal. Dogs use this to diffuse situations. A dog’s eyes are also used to do the same. Notice if they are half shut or if you can see the whites of the eyes (known as whale eye), these are all calming signals dogs use to communicate with each other.

The direction of a dog’s face and body can indicate quite a bit as well. If a dog is acting polite, they will often direct their gaze or body at an angle, to avoid direct eye contact and therefore to avoid confrontation. Many dogs have hair or fur that can raise along the spine. This is known as piloerection or raising its hackles. A dog’s hackles will be raised for a number of reasons; fear, aggression, insecurity, startled or aroused feelings, excitement, or interest. So pay particular attention to your dog when that is occurring and try to gauge why the hackles are being raised. Some dogs naturally have raised hackles like a rhodesian ridgeback.

A dog’s tail can be a huge indicator of what their state of mind is. The common misconception is that a wagging tail means a friendly dog. Wagging tail can indicate general excitement, nervousness, or happiness and other emotions. Therefore it is difficult to gauge a dog’s emotional state based on their tail movement. Try to look for things like the position of the tail. For example, if it’s straight up in the air, chances are your dog is feeling like a boss. However, if it’s tucked between their legs, chances are they are very scared or unsure. If the tail is neutral, just hanging, the dog is most likely in a calm state and does not wish to ruffle anyone’s feathers around them.

There are many other signals to look for, but the point I’m trying to make is that a dog communicates using all of these body language signals and more. While a dog may bark, whine or growl, those are not their primary communication devices. As humans are a verbal species, there tend to be many miscommunications between human to dogs. Take the time to be quiet, and simply observe what your dog is doing in order to have a better understanding of what they are trying to communicate. In no time, you will begin to see patterns in your dog’s behaviour and have a better understand of what they need.

View this YouTube video demonstrating canine communication to see how an adult dog teaches a puppy how to go down stairs: