Did you know your dog talks to you on a daily basis? Sure, they might not speak English or use human hand gestures. But there are still plenty of ways dogs communicate with their owners, from the hair on their back to the way their tail moves.
If you’re a new pet owner, the ways in which your dog might be trying to “speak” to you might not be obvious right away. But the more familiar you become with doggy behavior, and the deeper your relationship with your pup becomes, the easier it will be to understand what they’re trying to tell you.
The Importance of Understanding Your Dog
There are lots of reasons why communication with your pet is crucial. For one, just like with humans, open communication strengthens a relationship.
By staying in tune with your dog’s mood and feelings, you’re building trust that will only benefit you both moving forward. Strengthening your bond can also make it easier to train out negative behaviors and teach them new tricks, too!
It’s also important to pay attention to your dog’s behavior in case they are trying to tell you something critical. Maybe your dog is feeling anxious or scared or sick. They can’t tell you in English, but they can show you with their actions and body language.
Keeping an eye on how your dog acts can alert you in case special attention is required.
A Breakdown of Body Language in Dogs
Angry barks, frisky play bows, or nervous whines are easy enough to decipher. But there are many other behaviors your dog uses to communicate that are much more subtle.
Here is a tip-to-tail rundown of what your dog’s body language might be trying to express.
Your dog’s puppy dog eyes are probably to blame for lots of treats and cuddles! But did you know you can also learn a few things by studying your dog’s eyes?
When your dog is feeling alert, or even aggressive, their eyes will appear wider. You might even notice their pupils dilating. On the other hand, if your dog’s eyes are on the squinty side, they’re probably feeling relaxed and happy.
If you notice your dog showing the whites of their eyes, almost like a side-eye glance, there’s a chance your dog is feeling more distressed than usual.
In addition to looking at the shape and position of your dog’s eyes, consider how you approach eye contact as well. Regular eye contact with your dog can build trust, further strengthening your relationship. But use caution to not overdo it.
Prolonged eye contact can come off as threatening to some pups. Staring them down, especially if you haven’t already established a positive relationship, can make your dog feel nervous or even aggressive.
Your dog’s ears serve a purpose beyond listening to commands! Looking at the shape and position of your dog’s ears can give you some insight into how they’re feeling.
If your dog’s ears appear perky, they are probably feeling alert. This could be because they’re in a playful mood, or it could be that they saw an unfamiliar person walking in the neighborhood.
If your dog’s ears are flat against the head, they are probably feeling nervous. This is because, in most cases, pinning back their ears is usually a sign of nerves, anxiety, or anger.
Barking might be one of the most obvious ways for your dog to get their attention and get their point across. If you’re familiar with dogs, you probably know that there are several different types of barks.
Determining what your dog’s bark means isn’t difficult. Low and loud barks, which usually sound more mean than friendly, typically mean your dog is feeling threatened. Shorter, high-pitched barks are usually a sign of a playful mood.
Your dog will make other noises in addition to barking. Growling, for example, usually happens when they are feeling scared or aggressive. And if your dog is whining, they most likely want something. Whether that’s treats, attention, or a potty break can be determined by looking at other behavioral cues.
Have you ever heard someone say that a dog’s hackles are raised? This reaction, which refers to fur standing up in a line down your dog’s back, happens in all dogs. It’s most noticeable in short-haired breeds, though.
Your dog’s hackles might be raised if they feel alert, stressed, or angry. Many pet owners notice their dog’s fur standing up when they see a stranger walking by the house, or if they pass another dog on a walk.
Take note if you’re in a public place and see your dog’s hackles raised. It means your dog is feeling slightly threatened, so you should stay alert to make sure your dog stays safe.
If your dog’s tail is wagging, that means they’re happy—right? Well, not always. It’s true that your dog probably shakes their rear end and wags their tail when they’re in a great mood. But sometimes a wagging tail can indicate something less happy.
So how can you tell if your dog’s wagging tail is happy or not? A quick rule of thumb is to look at the speed and direction of the wag. If the tail is pointed toward the sky and moving quickly, the dog is probably feeling happy and playful. If their tail is pointed down and moving more slowly, though, they might be feeling scared or anxious.
Use Context Clues to Interpret Your Pup’s Body Language
You can’t fully understand how your dog is feeling by only examining one of these body language cues. Part of your responsibility as a pet owner is to look at all aspects of their behavior, combined with external context clues, to form the big picture.
If your dog’s behavior clues indicate anxiety or nerves, look at their environment. Are they at home or somewhere unfamiliar? Are they surrounded by family or are there new people or pets in the picture?
Communication Keeps Your Dog Safe and Healthy
By considering your dog’s body language in conjunction with factors in their environment, it won’t be long before you’re a pro at deciphering what your dog wants, needs, or thinks. This is particularly important in cases where health and safety are concerned.
For example, if you’re in a public place and your dog is noticeably agitated, there could be another threatening animal nearby. Recognizing this can help you be more alert and then you can remove your dog from that situation if needed.
In cases of health issues, paying attention to changes in your dog’s behavior can help you catch illness or disease before they progress. Your dog’s nervous or distressed behavior could be an indicator that they are sick and in need of a vet visit.
Understanding the signs of common ailments in dogs, including how to recognize heartworm symptoms, can help you catch these health issues early on.
Overall, the more you pay attention to your dog’s behavior, the easier it will be to keep them safe, healthy, and happy.
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