Dogs communicate with sounds including barks, whines, growls, and yawns; and they communicate via body language. It's important for us pet owners to be able to decipher what our pups are trying to tell us.
As far as sounds go, we’ll begin to learn our dogs’ barks the more time we’re around them. Dogs will usually have different tones for different situations. Oftentimes there is the “I need to go out” bark, the “I see a potential intruder” bark or the “I’m super excited” bark. Whining, growling, yawning, and moaning come into play as well when learning to listen to what your dog is saying.
Pups also communicate or “talk” via body language. They “talk” with their tails, ears, lips, posture, and even their fur!
Tail wagging is one of the most misinterpreted nonverbal cues. We usually equate that to our dog being happy, right? Well, yes, it can, but not always. A wagging tail can also mean they are on high alert or frustrated. According to an AKC article, a study on tail-wagging found that a tail wag to the right usually meant a positive feeling while wagging to the left was negative. The helicopter wag where the tail goes in a circle is definitely a happy wag! And, some dogs we know wiggle their whole rear ends! That’s definitely happy!
Holding the tail high can mean confidence or assertiveness while hanging very low or even tucked under is fearful. You'll get to know what a neutral position for your dog's tail is so when it changes, you'll know something's up.
How a dog is holding their ears can be a clue, too. Are they pulled back or even look like they are pinned back? If so, they are likely very uncomfortable. If this is paired with a hard stare and tight lips, remove your dog from the situation immediately as he may react any second.
Ears held high or forward can indicate she is alert and paying attention, or interested in what’s going on.
If lips and mouth are relaxed and open, your pup is likely calm and comfortable. If she’s panting when she isn’t tired or hot and yawning a lot, she is anxious.
If the dog is hunched over or trying to make himself smaller, he’s likely fearful. If he’s shifted his weight to his back legs he may be wanting to remove himself from the situation. If he’s leaning forward, he could be very interested or even agitated, depending on the context.
Raised hackles aren’t necessarily aggressive. They can also mean any emotionally aroused state. If you see the fur standing up along their shoulders or down their back, do take a look around to see what’s caused the agitation, excitement, or alarm.
A pup who has her chest toward the ground and her butt up in the air is asking to play. If they lean against you they’re hugging you, and if they’re looking at you with a relaxed mouth and soft eyes, even appearing slightly squinty, they are calm and happy!
The context of all these body language cues is extremely important. More than any single cue, you should be aware of what his whole body is doing and the situation at hand. Has company come to visit and he’s trying to contain his excitement? Are you on a walk and another dog is approaching? Is she growing tired of the kids pulling her ears? Does she want to cuddle?
This bit of information only scratches the surface but it can give an idea of how nuanced our canine companions can be! Learning your dog’s body language and sounds takes time but it’s a part of the journey toward being a great team with trust at the forefront.