Dogs don’t speak “human”. They respond because they’ve learned, after many repetitions, that “sit” means “tuck-your-back-feet-and-wait”. It is important for dog owners to comprehend the way dogs communicate if they are to understand their needs. Knowing how your dog is wired to communicate will also take some of the mystery out of training.

Dogs communicate using a combination of body language and vocalization. Watch a pack of wolves and you will see that it’s mostly body language with occasional vocalizations. A dog uses four methods of communicating via body language: facial expressions/usage, ear posture, tail usage, and body posture.

Happy Tails

Tail wags are a sign of a happy dog, right? No necessarily. A wagging tail has many meanings:

  • A tail held high means “I’m working”. He may be tracking a scent or following your commands.
  • A relaxed tail wagging back and forth indicates relaxation and contentment. It means “Hi there!”.
  • A stiffly wagging tail can indicate tension and excitement. It should not be interpreted as an invitation.
  • A tail that is completely still means that the dog is not quite sure about you, yet.
  • A tail tucked between the legs is a good indicator of fear or submissiveness. It’s best to let this dog come to you.

A dog’s tail can give a lot of information. This is why some trainers and breeders object to tail docking. In this procedure, a puppy’s tail is cut short to achieve a certain look or to meet a breed standard. They believe it can limit the dog’s ability to communicate with his tail.

What A Face

Did you know that dogs actually communicate by yawning. A dog will yawn during an exciting or stressful situation in an effort to calm himself. If another dog is overly excited, yawning while looking away means “Calm down. I’m not a threat.” In this way, he is trying to diffuse a tense situation.

Dogs use their lips for expression as well. A dog baring all his teeth is definitely communicating aggression, possibly fear. But a brief sneer may mean that he doesn’t like the way something tastes. Dogs will often blow through their lips when expressing contentment; especially when showing physical affection.

Lowering the eyes is submissive signal. On the other hand, direct eye contact can mean that the dog wants to play, or may be exhibiting aggression. Direct eye contact is sometimes necessary with your own dog, during training for instance. Unless he is extremely submissive, this will be OK. Don’t make direct eye contact with unfamiliar dogs.

I’m All Ears

When a dog’s ears are forward and erect, he is attentive and alert. He is probably waiting on you to give a command so that he can react.

Ears that are sitting in their natural, relaxed position may indicate contentment. In your dog’s mind, all is well.

Ears that are set lower than normal communicate depression, fear or pain. If your dog is twitching his ear and holding his head erect, he is probably trying to locate the source of some sound you can’t even hear.

Ears that are laid flat against the head are a clear sign of aggression or fear. Take it seriously.

Here again, some trainers and breeders object to artificially docking a puppies ears, since it limits their ability to communicate with other dogs.

Body Language

Does rolling onto his back and exposing his belly always mean that a dog wants his belly rubbed? Not always. If coupled with sneering, eyes rolling back, or urination, the dog is afraid. Be cautious if a dog exhibits this behavior. Most dog bites are fearful reactions.

A dog in a ‘play bow’ lowers only the front half of his body. This is usually accompanied by tail wagging and means “Let’s play!”. Shrink away from something or someone means “I’m very afraid”. This may be a genuine fear. Or the dog may simply have learned early on that humans coo at and pet him if he cowers.

Dogs that lie with their bodies stretched out, head between their paws, may be saying “I’m so bored” and not really tired. Finally, a dog that slinks away from you is feeling that he has done something wrong, and should leave your presence in order to avoid punishment.


The meanings of your dog’s vocalizations vary widely and can be hard to differentiate. Low tones are often communicating authority or a threat. High pitched tones communicate excitement, fear or submission. The most important thing to remember is to view is in context with his body language. Let’s take barking is an obvious form of vocalization.

A high pitched bark combined with lolling tongue, relaxed mouth and ears, and a wagging tails probably means “I’m happy to see you”. On the other hand, a high pitched bark combined with a lowered head, flat ears and a tucked tail could mean “Your scary. Back off or I’ll bite.”

Although this is not comprehensive, knowing the basics of canine communication can actually open a clearer line of communication for you and your dog. Give it a try. Stick to your own pack since strange dogs can be unpredictable.

Source by Geoffrey English