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Dog Language, Dog Behavior, and Dog Training, with Videos

Updated on August 30, 2013

Learn how to speak dog for easier dog training


Can you speak “dog”? Are you interested in some basic dog training? Canines have a dog language all their own, instilled by eons of living in the wild in a tightly knit social group known as a “pack.” In order to survive, the canine group had to work together and be able to communicate with each other, and each dog knew its place in the pack. If the dogs in a pack were always arguing, little would get done in the way of hunting, and canines would have probably become extinct a long time ago. Most of the dog behavior we see today in pet dogs is a holdover from their time in the wild.


Since we humans have removed dogs from the wild, they see us as their pack now. Your family unit, including other dogs and pets, are your dog’s pack, so the dog language is used with you and the rest of your group. It’s also used with strange humans, strange dogs, and with other animals.


The dog language reveals much about dog behavior. Once you learn how to speak dog, you can usually tell what a pooch is thinking and how it’s feeling. Learning how to speak dog is an important first step in proper dog training. You’ll never be successful with dog training if you don’t understand your furry pupil.


Basic examples of dog language and dog behavior – body language


Head and tail up high – I have a lot of self-confidence. I’m rough, and I’m tough, and I might just challenge you for the position of top dog.


Head and tail down – I’m showing submission.


Head down and tail between the legs – I’m scared!


Head down, tail wagging between the legs – I’m really, really scared!


Ears straight, relaxed body, tail wagging or relaxed, mouth slightly open with tongue hanging out – I’m happy and chilled out!


Ears laid back – I ain’t happy. I could be mad, or I could be sad.


Front end lowered, tail wagging – Hey! Let’s play!


Toy, chew, or treat between the front paws – This is MINE!


Asleep, curled up in a tight ball – I’m chilly! OR I might be fearful.


Head cocked sideways – Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout? OR What’s that?


White of eyes showing – This means I’m very anxious.


Lips pulled back to expose teeth – See these fangs? If you don’t leave me alone, I might just use them!


Hackles raised on neck and back – I’m super alert and might or might not be aggressive.


Body low and tense, ears forward, eyes staring, and tail straight out – I’m ready to pounce on some prey!


Body lowered, tail down, ears back, licking the face of a human or another dog – Okay, I know you’re above me in the pecking order…please don’t hurt me!


Rolling over on back, exposing belly – I submit to you. You’re the boss.


Body slightly tense, eyes alertly watching you – I await your command, Master! OR I’m just waiting for you to drop that cookie!


Sleeping on back with paws in the air – I’m content, without a care in the world. I feel safe enough to expose my belly.


Walking in quick circles, nose down and sniffing (especially with puppies) – I’m searching for a place to pee or poop!


Dog places front paw on you – You belong to me! OR Hey, I’m trying to get your attention. I need or want something.


Dog drops down, relaxed, with head up and tail wagging when a smaller dog approaches – See? I’m really not that big. I’m not going to hurt you. I wanna be friends!


Dog rolls in poop or a smelly dead animal – Me great, mighty hunter! Must mask my scent so the lions, tigers, and bears won’t smell me before I pounce on them and turn them into dinner!


Dog nudges your hand with its nose – Hey, put that hand to some good use! Pet me, stroke me, or scratch my belly!



Why do dogs sniff the poop and pee of other dogs?


Humans might find this dog behavior abhorrent, but it’s important to our pooches. By smelling urine and feces, the dog can tell what kind of animal left them. Like most examples of dog behavior, this one is a throwback to wolves and wild dogs. Identifying the pee and poop will let them know if they were left by predators or by prey animals.


Dogs mark their territory by urinating and defecating, too, so if they find the “leavings” of another dog, they might urinate over it to claim the territory for their own. If they don’t wish to put up a fight with the other dog in a territory dispute, they’ll find another place to relieve themselves.



Why does a dog mount and/or hump another dog?


There could be several reasons to explain this unusual and embarrassing dog behavior. Even neutered males and spayed bitches will sometimes mount and hump other dogs. It’s often a sign of dominance. Sometimes spayed females have higher increased levels of a hormone that has the same effect as testosterone, making the bitch more aggressive.


Sometimes when two strange dogs meet, one might mount the other to see which one is the dominant dog. And the dominant dog isn’t always the one on top. The dominant dog is usually the one who stops the humping encounter.


Sometimes a dog will mount another dog when the mounter is nervous or anxious. Sometimes humping and mounting is nothing more than a normal part of play. You see this especially in puppies. Of course, sometimes humping is about sex!



Dog behavior – butt sniffing


It never seems to fail…two strange dogs, or two dogs that know each other but haven’t seen each other in a day or two, immediately sniff each other’s butts when they meet. What’s the reason for this unusual dog behavior? Dogs can tell a lot about each other through butt sniffing. Because of glands near the tail, dogs can tell the other dog’s sex, its health condition, and whether or not it’s in estrus. Some experts also believe a dog can tell a lot about another dog’s temperament and pack status through butt sniffing.



Dog behavior and dog language – sounds


Of course, dogs also use an audible language that can often be translated by humans. If you listen carefully, you can decipher the emphasis, the inflection, and the volume of these sounds, which will usually give you a pretty good idea what they mean.


An insistent whine probably means the dog wants something – water, food, your attention, or to go outside to relieve itself. A whimper is more of a pitiful sound that indicates that the dog is scared or in pain.


A growl is dog language for “leave me alone.” It’s usually meant as a warning, although it might also be used in play. When a dog is growling, it’s usually giving you a chance to escape without being bitten. A dog that has already decided to bite often gives no warning growl.


Howling is a dog’s way of asking, “Where the heck are you?” Wolves in the wild use the howl to locate each other, and domesticated dogs use it for the same reason – to locate members of their pack. When you leave your dog alone in the house, it might howl for your return.


The bark is the most common form of audible dog language, and barks can mean a variety of things. Adult dogs in the wild rarely bark, but since humans basically keep their dogs “puppies” throughout their lives, they bark. Some bark more than others, of course. Barking can serve as a greeting, as a warning alarm, as a complaint, or for a number of other reasons. By observing the dog’s body language, you should be able to figure out what the bark means.


The dog language of your pooch and dog training


Above are the basic examples of dog language. Remember, however, that each dog is different, so your dog might have its own unique body language, in addition to these examples. For examples, one of my Great Danes gives a high-pitched, quick yelp when he wants to go out. My other Dane lets me know he needs to go out by nudging my leg with his nose. My Hamlet prances like a pony when he knows he’s being admired by strangers. Like I said, some dogs have very unique examples of dog language.


Use the dog language to your advantage when dog training your pet. You can tell if he’s alert and paying attention, whether or not he’s angry or upset, or whether or not he sees you as his pack leader.


To learn how to speak dog, closely observe your pet’s specific dog language in conjunction with its dog behavior at the time. Once you get to know your pooch well, its language will be fairly easy for you to decipher, and understanding dog language and dog behavior is a key to successful dog training.

Dog Training Tips:

Dog Training with the Dog Whisperer:

Dog language: Wanna play??
Dog language: Wanna play??
Dog behavior: Grendel is totally at ease and feels safe and secure.
Dog behavior: Grendel is totally at ease and feels safe and secure.
Dog language: Grendel is saying, "Huh??"
Dog language: Grendel is saying, "Huh??"


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    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, HP! Or should I say, "Ruff!"

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 

      10 years ago from Guwahati, India

      It is interesting to know the dog's language.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Chspublish, you're very welcome!

      HH, Grendel is just a big sweet puppy! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Dallas, that would work! Your friend is wise! lol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Anglnwu, that's better than being a dog "yeller"! lol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Lol, Susan. Thanks!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Prasetio, my friend, I hope the holiday season and the new year are great for you and your family!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Drbj, we had that quote displayed in our school's library!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Andy, when you're ready to get a furkid, get a Great Dane!!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, LL. Sometimes I think I AM a dog! lol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Dahoglund, kudos to your for rescuing a dog!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Rich, get a Great Dane!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      Grendel is saying who shall I have first the photo.grapher or the camera.

      Holly, to you and your family a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New.

    • chspublish profile image


      10 years ago from Ireland

      Great hub about dogs. I love anything to do with dogs and their behavior, so thanks for the great read.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      My female friend read this and said, "Just replace dog with man and you got yourself a happy man!...

      "The dog (man) language reveals much about dog (man's) behavior. Once you learn how to speak dog (man), you can usually tell what a pooch (young man) is thinking and how it’s (he is)feeling. Learning how to speak dog (man) is an important first step in proper dog (man) training. You’ll never be successful with dog (man) training if you don’t understand your furry (hairy man)) pupil."

      She must have read the same books...

    • anglnwu profile image


      10 years ago

      Thank you for this comprehensive hub on dog speak. It's very interesting and now, I can be a dog whisperer,if I dare.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      10 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great hub! As I read through everything I related to it all when it comes to my dogs. If mine want attention sometimes they will come up and slap me on the leg with their paw.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      10 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Good information, Habee. I always love all your hub, including this one. You share nice tips and this absolutely work. I really enjoy the video, awesome. Thank you very much. Have a nice weekend!


    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      10 years ago from south Florida

      What a comprehensive hub on understanding the language of man's and woman's best friend! Thank you, holle.

      One of my most favorite Groucho Marx quotes is about a dog. "A dog is man's best friend, outside a book. Inside ab book, it's too dark to read!"

    • Ign Andy profile image

      Ign Andy 

      10 years ago from Green Home Office

      Reading this hub convinces me to get a puppy. I'll read this again when I have one.

      Great hub Habee.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      10 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Lots and lots of useful information and insights into dog behavior in this hub.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Our dog came from a rescue shelter and has some behavior we are still trying to figure out. She seems to be feeling more secure with us but is very wary of strangers. She barkds at people who enter the house which is unusual behavior for a Siberian Husky. I guess it takes patience on our part to figure it put.

    • richtwf profile image


      10 years ago

      A very useful hub Habee. It was a very interesting read and what I've learnt will hopefully come in handy one day when the time is right to own and rear a puppy!

      Cheers and God bless!


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