Wouldn’t it be great if our dogs could speak to us? Imagine the things they would tell us – probably that they are hungry, or they saw something interesting through the window. Although we can’t have lengthy conversations with our pets just yet, here is a quick look at some of the common signals that our pups show, and how to figure out what your dog might be thinking. When thinking about your dog’s communication, there are a few obvious things that come to mind such as barking, pawing, and whining. Most of these actions can be obvious in certain situations, especially when there is food involved, but here are some potentially deeper meanings behind your dog’s actions.
Your dog’s energy is something you are probably already familiar with, so you have a basic idea of when to tell if they are happy or sad, or even if they are feeling ill. Dogs are extremely sensitive and have the ability to tell pick up on how a person might be feeling. They can learn to recognise basic human facial expressions or gestures, and will often mirror what they see. This is a great website if you want to know about how our dogs can learn to understand us: http://www.canismajor.com/dog/bodlang.html So let’s talk about us learning to understand them.
Apart from your dog’s energy, there are a few main aspects to look at for you to understand what your dog is thinking, these are their body language, and also the sounds/noises they make. A dog’s body language is one of the first things that we notice, and it can tell us a lot about how a dog might be feeling.
Let’s start by looking at a relaxed and happy dog – how we always want our dogs to be. A happy dog will more than likely have what is known as “happy eyes” and might even look like they are smiling. Your dogs’ mouth may be slightly open, showing a smile, have perky ears, and their eyes will be bright. Happy/relaxed dogs often wag their tails in a slow motion, similar to how they would greet other dogs to show that they are friendly and want to play. Tail wagging is one of the most common non-verbal communications that your dog will use, and is the easiest to spot.
Some dogs also show happiness and greet humans/other dogs that they know by barking. These sorts of barks are normally higher pitched and noticeably friendly in comparison to other barks. When displaying happiness, some breeds have their own special way of letting us know, such as the Japanese Shiba Inu who demonstrate what is commonly known as the happy “tippy tap” where they bounce with their front paws, which imitates dancing.
In contrast to this, if your dog is tense and their tail is down/still, this shows that your dog is nervous or unhappy about something. Other signs that your dog might be unhappy, is that their ears may be flattened, and their body is lowered to the ground. Many dogs tend to pant excessively when they are worried/stressed and will often pace around – this will seem restless and on edge.
Other non-verbal communication that your dog might use include a mixture of barks, growls, and even huffs/sighs. These can sometimes be apparent depending on the context, but let’s look at them a little more.
Barking: Barking is the most common non-verbal communication that your dog will use, this could be to yourself, other humans, or even other dogs. It’s your dog’s way of getting attention and can also be their way of replying to other dogs. Often, it will be a high energetic bark, which means your dog is happy or even excited – probably to see you! Whereas a lower and much deeper bark is commonly an indication that they are unhappy – similar sounding to a growl.
Growling: If your dog is growling, it could be because they sense danger such as another dog or even an earthquake. Your dog may also growl if you approach when they are eating or playing with a toy, this is their way of telling you to back off as you are in their space and they are being protective. Is important to try to identify any factors that may be causing your dog unhappiness or fear, to prevent any unnecessary stress – remember a dog’s natural instinct is to defend itself.
The last group of noises that your dogs might make, is something that many dog owners hear, especially if they are after a snack from your plate. These are mostly heard when your dog wants something or they’re not getting their own way, and they decide to let you know about it – it’s their way of complaining. As they can’t directly tell us what they want, they’ll use a mixture or non-verbal communications, many that you may have already encountered. These non-verbal communications range from whining, grunting, and even the odd huff. Many dogs start to recognise your reactions to these signals and on occasion can learn how to use them to influence their owners. For example, not so subtle whining mixed with the well know “puppy eyes” can be difficult to say no to.
For a more in depth look at how your dog might be trying to tell you something, and how to analyse their methods of non-verbal communication, a good read would be: https://www.dogster.com/dog-training/dog-body-language