Have you ever wished your dog could talk could talk to you? Well, he does; just not with words. Research shows that dogs have their own way of communicating with their owners, as well as with other dogs. Watching your dog interact with other dogs can be confusing. Are they playing? Are they fighting? Are they trying to tell each other something? Your dogs body speaks volumes, and here are some typical signs to look for.
Face: Dogs will wrinkle or straighten their foreheads to show confusion or determination.
Eyes: A dog’s eyes brighten when he looks at a creature he considers friendly. When he is afraid, his pupils dilate and he shows the whites of his eyes. When he stares at you, he is focusing on what you will do or say.
Lips, teeth and tongue: If your dog is happy or wants to play, he may pull his lips back and show his teeth in what appears to be a smile. This is a gesture that is reserved only for human/dog communication; a dog will not do this with other dogs. If they wet their lips, this is also a sign of being relaxed.
Ears: If a dog’s ears are raised, he is alert or listening. If they are back, he might be signaling submission or he is in a relaxed state.
Tail: The way a dog wags its tail indicates how he feels. If the tail wags more to the right, it is a sign of positive feelings; left-side wagging indicates negative feelings, especially towards other dogs.
One Paw Raised: This is very cute but the dog is not happy and does not want to be petted or bothered. She is worried and full of anxiety. This is also a sign of submission.
Signs of a Happy Dog
Signs that indicate that the dog is receptive to attention or wants to play:
- panting, relaxed, happy expression
- body position relaxed
- lying with one paw tucked under
- enthusiastic tail wag
- tail thumping on floor
- play bow (front end down; rear end up; tail wagging)
Signs of Arousal
These signs indicate that your dog is interested in something, or trying to decide on a course of action and is not receptive to attention (such as petting from a child) and include:
- ears forward
- mouth closed
- eyes intense
- body rolled forward
- body tense
- tail high (may or may not be wagging)
- slow deliberate tail wag
This is the type of posture we see in a dog who wants to chase a squirrel, confront an intruder or is getting ready to chase a ball. This is the time your dog wants to be petted, because he is focused.
How Dogs Talk to Each Other
Play bow: This means let’s play. However, it can also be a sign of apology; it’s a dog’s way of saying, “Oops. I didn’t mean to play so rough. Let’s keep playing!”
Paw slap: This is like a human coming up and slapping you on the back. This gesture puts the dog at an awkward angle, so it’s also a sign that the dog trusts the dog it is playing with.
Rearing hind legs: When dogs rear up on their hind legs, it’s a sign of affection. It often looks like dancing when dogs do this together when they’re playing.
Biting: Again, it’s a sign of play. Dogs are careful to avoid sensitive areas on the other animal.
Just like their human owners, dogs like to talk. However, unlike body signals, barking can represent different things to different dogs. The pitch or volume of the bark will increase with the dog’s level of emotion.
And it could be that artificial intelligence is better at distinguishing dog barks than humans are. Hungarian researches recently tested 6,000 different barks from 14 Hungarian sheepdogs using special software. Their study showed that the computer program correctly identified what the dog was trying to communicate 43 percent of the time, compared with 40 percent for humans.
Understanding Each Other
We send our dogs to obedience school to teach them how to understand what we want from them. But they also need to tell us what they need from us, and they do so every day. We simply have to open our eyes, ears and hearts to understand what they are trying to say. But do they understand what we say? Humans often use verbs such as come, sit, down and off to get dogs to alter their behavior. After controlling for outside contextual cues, researchers found that dogs could still understand that specific words map to specific physical actions.
As you come to be around dogs, and observe your own dog, you will start seeing behaviors due to a multitude of emotional responses to the environment around them, interaction with people and animals, and what you are actually wanting them to do by word association. Research, reading, and interaction will make you a better dog owner and trainer.