Although animals don’t form written languages, each species has its own way of communicating. For dogs, this is primarily done through facial expressions, vocal signals, and ear and tail positions. If you’re like most people and love your pet like a child, you might want to better understand their wants, needs, and emotions. By studying your pet’s mannerisms, you can truly start to recognize how your dog communicates.
This can lead to a better bond, and it’s an extremely important step to take with shelter or rescue pets. Once you know the signs to look for, you and your fido will be closer than ever!
There are several components to dog facial expressions. From eye contact to licking, each expression your furry friend makes means something.
One of the easiest things for dogs to communicate is anger, irritation, or fear. They often do this by baring their teeth. Typically, this means that a dog feels threatened. If your dog does this often, pay attention to the environment they’re in.
Are there certain people around? Do loud noises or even children trigger this behavior? Once you find the source, you can brainstorm a solution. Snarls also fall in this category but serve as more of a warning to stop a behavior they don’t like.
It’s also easy to mistake a snarl for a submissive grin. The mouth movement is almost identical, but your dog’s body language will tell you the difference. If the rest of your pet’s body is relaxed, they’re most likely being playful or are simply happy.
Like humans, dogs also tense up when they are stressed. This can clearly be seen in the presence of wrinkles around your dog’s mouth.
It’s true that your eyes are the window to your soul, and this rule applies to dogs as well. In fact, National Geographic says dogs’ eyes have evolved over time to better communicate with humans.
If you have a happy and content pet, you might not notice much change in their eyes. They’ll be soft, relaxed, and have normal pupil dilation.
On the other hand, if a dog is very forceful about its eye contact, that means he is being assertive. Pets will typically do this if they feel the need to protect their home or their humans.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are dogs that make little to no eye contact and may look away often. Sometimes this can be a sign of bad behavior, but generally, it is a sign of submission. It’s their way of letting you know they understand the power dynamic.
Occasionally, you may notice your furry friend’s eyes are squinted. As long as your pet is friendly and approaching, this is a good sign. It shows they wish to appease you. Beware if their body language shifts backward and to a lower position. This could mean your pet feels threatened.
In a similar way to how humans use their eyebrows to express emotion, dogs use their ears to communicate. Because of how quickly these movements can happen, they’re often the first sign that your pet’s mood has changed.
Sharp Pointed Ears
Stiff ears that are pointed forward means that your dog is alert. Usually, this position is triggered by a suspicious sound or action that concerns them. If your dog has recently been exposed to new sounds, make sure to let them know they’re ok. The behavior should subside once they feel comfortable.
Pulled Back Ears
When evaluating what pulled back ears mean, make sure you consider the rest of your animal’s body language. If their ears are pulled back and they’re being affectionate, it’s simply a sign of appeasement.
On the other hand, if their ears are pulled back and they’re snarling, you may need to anticipate aggressive or fearful behavior. Typically, this is the result of a new stressor in the dog’s environment. Remove the problem and your pet should go back to normal.
If your dog’s ears are relaxed, you can rest easy. This communication signal is fairly obvious. It simply means your dog is content and feels safe in her current environment.
Some tail movements send signals that are easy for humans to pick up on. For example, a wagging tail means your dog is excited. However, these movements can communicate a lot more than you think. When combined with other body language signals, a wagging tail can actually mean a lot of things.
Pay attention to your animal’s natural tail position. If it’s lower than normal or tucked between his legs, then it’s signaling that your dog is nervous. You may also notice your pet does this when he is in trouble. In this case, it’s a sign of submission.
When a dog feels threatened, their tail will be higher than normal. A fully vertical tail is a red flag for aggression. However, a tail that sticks straight out simply shows your dog is curious. You may see this behavior around new pets or people.
A wagging tail does generally mean your dog is happy or excited, but it can communicate a few other emotions. Live Science sites a study that shows dogs will wag their tails in different directions depending on their emotions.
A wag to the right means your pet is feeling positive emotions. A wag to the left, on the other hand, could mean your dog is irritated or becoming agitated. This might happen if someone pets a sensitive area of their body or invades their personal space for an extended period of time.
The intricacies of your dog’s voice are just as complicated as a human’s when it comes to emotions. The best way to understand your pet is by paying attention to its unique and subtle changes in tone and cadence. Here are some common vocal changes you can focus on to better understand how your dog communicates:
Panting doesn’t just mean your dog is hot, tired, or thirsty. A quiet, almost unnoticeable pant can signal that your dog is content. A slightly heavier pant could indicate your furry friend is excited about something, perhaps a walk or a new visitor.
Whining is a very personal communication that is unique to every dog. Different dogs whine for different reasons. You may notice that your dog has a higher pitch whine for when she is begging than when she is asking to go outside. Learning each of these whines can help you better attend to your furry friend’s needs.
Although it can sometimes get annoying, barking is a dog’s version of yelling. It typically means something needs your attention right away. Spoiled dogs may bark if their food isn’t poured right on time.
They may also bark to alert you to potential danger or if they’re in need of playtime. Typically, you can discern what a dog’s bark is about by looking in the direction they are. You’ll probably find a person walking by the window, an empty food bowl, or a toy in their mouth.
Overall, the number one key to understanding your pet is paying attention. It won’t take long for you to pick up on how your dog communicates. In the meantime, the common behaviors we’ve listed will help you avoid aggressive or stressful situations.