How Dog's Communicate

Communicating with a dog often comes naturally to kids, but adults find it harder, say Amy Ammen, director of Amiable dog training, host of “Amiable dog training with Amy Ammen” on MATA television in Milwaukee, and author of training in no time and dual ring dog. As we get older, we rely on more words and start to lose our nonverbal communication skills. And we seldom sit back and just look at what is going on. These are the very skills you will need if you want to know your dog and how she relates to you and her world.

Dogs aren’t verbal, but their overall body position, their facial expressions, their ear and tail movements, and all sorts of sounds let other dogs and people around them know how they’re feeling. “You can learn a lot about your dog by watching her,” says Ammen. If you observe her and her body language, you’ll soon know how things are with her. You’ll even get to the point where you can tell what she’ll be up to next.

Dog Watch:
Some doggy signals are pretty universal and mean much the same whether the dog is communicating with a person or another dog. When a dog is play bowing, her rear end up, and her front down and her tail wagging, you can be sure she is issuing an invitation, “Let’s play, to whoever she’s talking to.

Then there are the subtle differences among individual dogs. Sit back and observe your dog – watch how her posture changes, how she uses her ears, eyes, brows, lips, nose, mouth, tail and coat, advises Ammen. Also take a close look at how her body language changes, depending on her mood. Once you can work out how she expresses herself when she’s happy, questioning, anxious, proud of herself, sleepy or whatever, you’ll be able to “read” her.

“But don’t assume you can ‘read’ a strange dog,” warns Ammen. “Picking subtle differences in strange dogs is tricky, even for experts.” A calm dog and a mildly apprehensive one can be easily confused, as can a dominant dog and an aggressive one. “To really grasp the nuances of canine body language, sounds and expressions, you need to be familiar with the breed’s characteristics,” say Ammen. If a dog’s tail is low, for example, it generally means she’s feeling insecure, but some sighthound breeds hold their tails this way simply as a matter of course. A Greyhound or a Whippet with its tail between its legs is probably feeling just fine.

What Her Body and Face are saying:
“Submissive dogs contract, while dominant dogs expand,” Ammen explains. A frightened pooch makes herself as small as she can by moving everything inward. She shrinks slightly, tucks her tail, lays back her ears and averts her eyes. She may “surrender” by rolling over and exposing her belly. If she’s so scared she wants to bolt for it, she’ll pull back her lips and her weight will be back over her haunches.

A dominant dog makes herself seem larger by raising her hackles, carrying her tail straight out or up, and standing absolutely erect, says Ammen. She makes and holds eye contact and her mouth is usually closed. If the dog’s body appears to be learning forward (in contrast to an erect stance) and her ears point forward, she may be aggressive and about to attack. An aggressive dog may also have hard stare, her mouth closed, top lip pulled up and bottom lip down to show lots of teeth, and a snarl that you’ll never forget.

A relaxed pooch looks quite different. She wags her tail in a neutral position – not stiffly, or raised high or tucked under. Her mouth is often open, her ears are held half-back or relaxed, her weight is evenly distributed on all four legs, and there’s no sign of tension or threat in her eyes.

Learning Her Vocabulary:
Most dog owners know their dogs are capable of a variety of sounds: barks, whines, squeals, yelps and howls. But although dogs sometimes sound as if they are trying to talk, these noises aren’t attempts to mimic our language, says Ammen.

Your dog knows that making a noise is a great way to get your attention, so of course she’s going to use it to get you looking and listening her way. And dogs are not above using noises manipulate and impress. Have you ever seen, in a two – dog household, how cleverly one dog can use sound and body language to invite her canine companion to come play, when he’s snoozing in the best spot on the sofa? As soon as dog number two is on his feet, dog number one is jumping onto sofa and snaffling the prime pooch position. Dogs will also often bark to distract an opponent, or they may whimper in fake surrender to throw another dog off guard.
“A growl, bark or whimper can mean different things at different times,” says Ammen. As well as being terrific for getting noticed, a bark can signal alarm, happiness, frustration or surprise. In general, the faster and higher the bark, the more excited or agitated the dog. Growls can be deep and threatening, or more like moans of pleasure during a good back rub.

Visual Connections:
Many people think that submissive dogs avert their eyes when you look at them, while dominant ones meet your eyes and stare straight back. But a dog may look sideways at you, whether she is feeling queen of canines or meek as a mouse.

When your dog stares at you, staring her down won’t necessarily convince her that you’re in charge, Ammen says. Besides, it’s a mistake to assume that a stare indicates your dog is trying to dominate you. Sweet, submissive dogs is trying to dominate you. Sweet, submissive dogs often stare with melting adoration at their owners. To work out your dog’s true intentions, you will also need to look at her facial expressions and at her body posture. It also helps to know something about your dog’s background.

So what should you make of intense eye contact? “It tells you the dog is interested in something that she may like, dislike or be afraid of,” says Ammen.

“If your dog is over-excited or she’s easily distracted, pay close attention to her when she makes eye contact elsewhere. She may be getting ready to pull on the leash, lunge, bark, attack or run.”

Mixed Messages:
You and your dog will probably have occasional misunderstandings, and sometimes you can misread dogs that you don’t know too well. Not all dog messages have a single meaning. And dogs, like humans, give conflicting signals, sometimes by accident, sometimes not. “Contradictions will always exist among body language, eye contact, vocalizations, actions and actual intentions, in both humans and dogs,” explains Ammen.

Watch your dog and note the mannerisms that precede excitable, fearful, silly or aggressive behavior. This will help you to anticipate sudden movements and to keep your dog under control if she gets excited. You will soon learn to interpret her feelings, and to know when she needs reassurance or to be kept from harm on a tight leash.