Understanding Dog Language

Sometimes you may hear someone talking about “dog language.” What exactly do they mean by this term? Are dogs actually communicating with each other in some secret, unknown language that humans can’t understand? Or, is there something much more complicated going on?

Actually, dogs don’t imagine the world in ways that we would consider as using “language.” Language and the way we see the world are things created by humans. However, all animals have communication, and that includes dogs.

Dogs use a sequence of body language cues and dog sounds to tell each other what they are feeling and what they want. This method is very effective.

As people who live with dogs, it’s very helpful to know what our dogs are trying to communicate to us when they use body language. Knowing what our dogs are “saying” to us can also minimize any potential aggression or possible violence when our dogs are outside the home. It helps us recognize when a dog is upset or angry.

Recognizing the Different Kinds of Dog Language

Due to the fact that dogs have no syntax and there are no certain rules for dogs and the way they “talk” to us, here are some of the most vital physical cues your dog will give you:

Stillness: If a dog no longer moves and stands very still, it may mean the dog wants to be left alone. The dog may be afraid of losing something. Try offering your dog a bone and see if your dog does this. It may be dangerous to interact with a dog in this state unless you are the obvious leader of the pack.

Growling and Showing Teeth: There are different stages when a dog shows a threatening posture. The dog will begin with baring his teeth. Some people tell their dogs to stop showing their teeth but it’s usually best to allow your dog to exhibit this behavior.

Even though teeth baring is frightening, it is a clear warning sign to people and to other animals that the dog is threatening and should be left alone. After baring teeth, the dog will growl. Next the dog will attack. If you train your dog not to bare his teeth, or not to growl, the dog may go straight into an attack and there would be no warning. People and other animals need to be aware of the warning signs before an attack.

Arched Backs: If a dog arches his back it means that the dog is attempting to make himself look bigger. He does this to try to frighten off something that he considers a threat. This usually means that he is afraid. Dogs that are afraid are dangerous. If you see another dog that is arching his back, you should leave the dog alone.

Tail between their legs: When a dog has his tail between his legs it means that he’s afraid or nervous. There can be many reasons why a dog is afraid. It could even be cause the dog’s owner has left the home.

Lowered Head: If a dog has his head lowered it means the dog is inviting you or another dog to play. This is a primal action that means, “I’m happy!”

Raised Paw: When a dog raises a paw it means that he wants to be friends. That’s why it’s usually so easy to teach a dog to raise his paw.

Tail Wagging: The tail is one of the dog’s most powerful means of communication. It’s a communication tool and your dog can use it to rapidly provide communication clues they want to give you. When the dog has a loose, wagging tail it means he’s happy. Other ways of wagging the tail are not as positive.

If the dog is flicking the tail and holding it mostly still, this is meant to tell people to keep away and don’t bother him. A barely wagging tail may mean the dog is insecure or anxious. When the dog has his tail between his legs he is very scared.

Dogs are very good at expressing their feelings. In many cases one of the biggest training problems lies in the fact that people don’t pay nearly enough attention to what their dog is telling them with their body language. And yet, dogs can read every gesture that humans make. It doesn’t matter whether you try to hide it or not, your dog will always know if you’re upset, happy, or angry just by reading your body language.

Your dog will usually be able to connect your actions to the sounds and the syllables of the words you say. However, ultimately it’s the body language and the gestures you make that decide how you and your dog understand each other.

Until next time…..

About the Author: Wayne Booth is owner of in Nashville, TN.  Wayne has been teaching people how to become Professional Dog Trainers since 1990 and he is the Training Director of Canine Behavior Specialists Network, www.K9-University.com

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