The Secret Language of Dogs

Communicating With Your Pet

Dog cocks an ear

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.

Dog Body Language

Any dog owner will tell you that their four-legged family members speak volumes with their bodies. Here are some typical signals dogs use:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ears: If a dog’s ears are raised, he is relaxed or listening. If they are back, he might be signaling submission.
  • Tail: A recent study published in “Current Biology” shows that 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.

Just like their human owners, dogs like to talk. However, unlike body signals, barking can represent different things to different dogs.

How Dogs Talk to Each Other

Dogs are social animals, and there is universal language they share when communicating with other dogs, according to Marc Bekoff, a biologist and author of “Animal Passions and Beastly Virtues.”

Dogs play at the beach
  • 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.

Barking Dogs

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.


If you liked this story, you may also like to read Why Dogs do Strange Things or Socializing Cats and Dogs.


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