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How dogs communicate through body language

Updated on April 9, 2009

In nature, upon watching a group of wolves, it is easy to notice how these gregarious animals communicate between each other by mostly relying on body language. They will express various feelings and emotions by simply tensing up, wagging tails, pulling ears back or showing some teeth in a snarl. In a home setting, domesticated dogs will replicate such visual cues, by using their body language to express themselves with us, it is therefore, up to us humans to learn how to decipher what they are trying to say.

It takes some observant watching and some time, to start learning how dogs communicate. Many dog thoughts are pretty obvious, such as those eyes pointed straight at your food with a drip of drool, easily tell you that your dog will appreciate a piece of your steak. Or that look on your dog's face when you scold him not to chew on your favorite slippers any longer, easily portrays the fact that he is upset. However, there are much more subtle signs of feelings and emotions that watchful owners may learn to decipher.

Learning about a dog's body language is a big plus for any average dog owner. While this is mostly left to dog trainers and behaviorists, as an owner you will particularly benefit learning how your dog communicates without barking. After all, you are the ones that will spend 24/7 of your time with your pet, so knowing your dog well comes as a great benefit.

A good part of dog's communication is composed by body posture. It is a mistake to solely rely on the dog's tail and mouth. A dog may easily invite another dog to play by putting itself in a typical play bow. This is done by lowering itself and stretching its front legs out. Often this is seen after a nap as aw ay to stretch, however it also can be a calming signal, a dog's way to calm another person or dog.

A stiff body with hair raised in the back, may be a strong indicator of aggression, often accopanied by growls and fangs showing from a raised lip. However, teeth showing is not always a sign of aggression. Submissive dogs ''smile'' too. The main difference between the two is that in a submissive smile, only the front teeth are displayed whereas in an aggressive snarl, the majority of teeth are showing.

Probably most dog owners know that a tail between the legs is a sign of fear, as a matter of fact, if you visit you veterinarian, you may find a good amount of dogs with tails between their legs! A tail held high instead is a sign that the dog is alert. A slow wagging tail motion indicates uncertainty, while a tail wagging fast is pure happiness and enthusiasm.

When a dog leans its head sideways it indicates curiosity. It is typically seen when they hear a sound they never heard before. Translated in human language it may be a "'what was that?''

Dogs use often calming signals, Turi Rugass, did an extensive and very interesting study on these. Yawning, licking lips and sniffing the ground are important calming signals used among dogs and their owners.

As seen, dogs communicate at a great length without barking. It is totally up to the owner to learn how to decipher the dog's body language. Dogs however, also learn the human body language, so ultimately, both species learn a bit of each other. When this happens it really strengthens the dog-owner bond making communication a very helpful tool.


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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      9 years ago from USA

      Your dog sounds like really a funny being to be around! too funny!

    • waynet profile image

      Wayne Tully 

      9 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

      My dog actually grunts when she wants to go out and it sounds like she says "out"

      Recognising when our dogs feel sad or happy can be a good thing to just be there like a friend is and by their body language you can tell a lot if we take notice.

      My dog smiles when she farts and then looks around to see if anyone else heard her funny!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      9 years ago from USA

      I agree,  I think it is  so funny when dogs do that! I love Turi Rugass's article on calming signals, there is so much to learn!

    • brad4l profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      I love the "what was that" look my dog gives me, because it really seems like she is trying her hardest to understand what I am saying.

      I think that it is really neat to learn an animals body language. Horses are another cool one to learn.


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