Help | Contact | Search

PetGallery - Pet Photos and Pictures

OzPetShop - Pet Products, Supplies and Accessories


OzPetShop - Pet Products, Supplies and Accessories



Dog communication refers to body movements and sounds dogs use to send signals to other dogs, and other animals (usually humans). Dog communication comes in a variety of forms. Dogs use certain movements of their bodies and body parts and different vocalizations to send signals. There are a number of basic ways a dog can communicate. These are movements of the ears, eyes and eyebrows, mouth, head, tail, and entire body, as well as barks, growls, whines and whimpers, and howls.

Interpreting animal body language
A dog might stretch after standing up, just as people do, or might drop into a stretch to lead into a play bow or to calm a person or other dog.It is important to note that while many gestures and actions have common, stereotypical meanings, researchers regularly seem to find that animal communication is often more complex and subtle than previously believed, and that the same gesture may have multiple distinct meanings depending on context and other behaviors. So, generalizations such as "X means Y" are often, but not always accurate. For example, even a simple tail wag may convey many meanings including:

- Excitement
- Anticipation
- Playfulness
- Contentment/enjoyment
- Happy, self-confidence

But also:

- Anxiety
- Questioning another animal or a human as to intentions
- Tentative role assessment on meeting another animal
- Reassurance ("I'm friendly, are you?")
- Uncertainty/apprehension
- Submissive placation (if worried by a more dominant animal)
- Combined with other body language, in a specific context, many gestures such as yawns and direction of vision all convey meaning. Panting may mean "Too hot"; it might also mean either emotional anxiety or happiness. Thus statements that a particular action "means" something should always be interpreted to mean "often means" something. As with human beings, who may smile or hug or stand a particular way for multiple reasons, many animals reuse gestures too.

Descriptions in this article are therefore best viewed as common generalizations, to which a more experienced observer will be able to add further detail or understanding.

Ethology is a science which studies animal behavior.

Dominance and submission
One of the most common communications between dogs, and from dogs to their human companions, is the display of either dominance or submission. Most dogs and wild canines live in groups, or packs, with an established hierarchy. Dogs will, usually, submit to any dog that is more dominant than they are. There are many ways a dog can show their dominance or submission, depending on situation, the amount of difference in social rank, and each dog's own personality. Dominant dogs are more confident, while submissive dogs are more insecure. Both of these traits show in almost every communication signal a dog gives.

Body movements

How high or low the tail is held, in relation to how the dog's breed naturally carries their tail, and how it is moved can signify the dog's mood and/or rank. The higher the tail is carried, the more dominant/confident the dog is; the lower, the more submissive/insecure. A tail held straight up, or even slightly curved over the back, shows that the dog is very dominant. If the fur on the tail is also bristled, the dog is saying they are willing and able to defend their position.

Small, slow wags of the tail says the dog is questioning things around them. Either they aren't sure if the target dog or person is friendly, or they aren't sure what is going on or what is expected of them.

Large, fast wags of the tail is a sign of a happy or excited dog. If the wags are large enough to pull the dog's hips with them, the message includes a bit of submission to someone they view as pack leader.

Dogs with docked tails, like Dobermanns, tend to have some problems communicating with other dogs, since their tail movements are extremely difficult to detect. Dogs with docked tails will usually compensate for this by wagging their entire rear end.

Recent research has suggested that left-right asymmetry of the tail wags is likely to also convey information along the approach/avoidance axis.

Aggressive/ violent
These dogs are showing the major signs of aggression, but they are not fighting, so body language should not be inferred on isolated signsWhen dogs show their teeth or fangs, it is a sign of violence, or aggression. Dogs show their teeth to warn someone that if they come closer, the dog will attack for defensive reasons.

But many dogs will "smile" showing teeth when they are expressing signs of submissiveness. A smile is a sign that the dog accepts that it is lower in hierarchy. A smile is different from a snarl in several ways. One of the main differences is how many teeth are showing. A submissive smile shows only the front teeth while aggression is shown by most of the dog's teeth. An aggressive dog will show not only their front teeth, but the back ones as well. The dog's gums could also be shown.

Ear position relates the dog's level of attention, and reaction, to a situation or animal. Erect ears facing forward means the dog is very attentive, while ears laid back suggests a negative , usually fearful or a timid reaction. They also lay their ears back for the sounds surrounding them. Dogs with drop ears, like Beagles, can't use these signals very well, as the signals first developed in wolves, whose ears are pricked. Wolf-like dogs will, when content and happy, often hold their ears in a horizontal position but still forward. This has been referred to as the "wolf smile".

A dog showing all signs of being anxious - white half moon eyes, nose licking, sideways glance etcMouth expressions can provide information about the dog's mood. When a dog wants to be left alone, it might yawn (although yawning also might indicate sleepiness, confusion, or stress) or start licking its mouth without the presence of any food. When a dog is happy or wants to play, it might pant with lips relaxed, covering the teeth and with what sometimes appears to be a happy expression (it might appear as a smile to some observers) or with the mouth open. Mouth expressions that indicate aggression include the snarl, with lips retracting to expose the teeth, although some dogs also use this during play.

It's important to look at the dog's whole body and not just the mouth or tail before deciding what the dog is trying to communicate. What appears initially as aggression might be an invitation to play, or vice-versa.

Eyes and eyebrows

While dogs don't have actual eyebrows, they do have a distinctive ridge above their eyes, and some breeds, like the Rottweiler and the German Shepherd, have markings there. A dog's eyebrow movements usually express a similar emotion to that of a human's eyebrow movements. Raised eyebrows suggest interest, lowered brows suggest confusion or mild anger, and one eyebrow up suggests bewilderment. Slitted eyes translate the same as human's also: suspicion or anger.

Feet and legs
Real brothers stamping feet, maybe to gain attentionAlthough a dog's feet cannot manipulate like human hands, a person can use them as an avenue of communication. A dog might stamp its feet, alternating its left and right front legs, while its back legs are still. This occurs when the dog is excited, wants something, or wants its owner's attention. Pointers tend to tuck one front leg up, when they sense game nearby. This behavior might not be communication so much as the dog freezing mid-step as a result of the its instinct telling it to immediately become still. It is also common for dogs to paw or scratch for objects they desire. Many dogs are trained to mimic a human handshake, offering a paw to a human stooping down and offering their own hand in exchange.

Leaning of head and forward ears on hearing the shutter sound of camera for the first timeThe leaning of a dog's head to the right or to the left often indicates curiosity and/or a sound it has not heard before. This, however, may also be a sign of recognition to a familiar word, or even that the dog is trying to understand a word or situation. It is very common in some breeds, such as pugs.[citation needed]

If the dog's head is held high with it's neck craning forward is showing interest or it can be showing a challenge if other body language is present.




Dogs bark for many reasons, such as when perceived intruders (humans, dogs, or other animals) approach its territory, for identification, when hearing an unfamiliar or unidentified noise, when seeing something that the dog doesn't expect to be there, or when playing. Barking also expresses different emotions for a dog, such as loneliness, fear, suspicion, stress, and pleasure. Play or excited barks are often short and sharp, such as when a dog is attempting to get a person or another dog to play.

Dogs generally try to avoid conflict; their vocalizations are part of what communicates to other dogs whether they mean harm or are in a playful mood.

The bark of a distressed or stressed dog is high pitched, repetitive, and atonal; it tends to get higher in pitch as the dog becomes more upset. For example, a dog left home alone and who has separation anxiety might bark in such a way.

Some research has suggested that dogs have separate barks for different animals, including dog, fox, deer, human, squirrel and cat.


Growls can be used to threaten, to invite play, and to show dominance. Growling should be watched with special attention because it can indicate dominance or aggression. A soft, low-pitched growl often indicates aggression; the dog may feel threatened and may be provoked to attack. An intense growl, without showing any teeth, may often indicate a playful attitude. Always consider the context of a growl, and exercise caution.


Howling provides long-range communication with other dogs or owners. Howling can be used to locate another pack member, to keep strangers away, or to call the pack for hunting. Sometimes dogs howl in response to high-pitched or loud noises such as alarms, sirens, music, or singing. In Russia, a howling dog represents a bad sign, for it is believed that howling dogs sense somebody's death somewhere in the vicinity. Sometimes dogs howl when the train whistle blows or a civil defense siren is activated. The latter in particular is a source of humor for many dog-owners.


Human speech

Though the phenomenon is often undiscussed, some dogs may try to repeat human speech sounds, or are trained to do so. This kind of vocalization does not have a set meaning, and is unique to its situation. Recent examples have included a talking pug on the Late Show with David Letterman. A Hungarian Vizsla was also trained to speak a few words. The Vizsla can say "Food", "Help", and "Play" although these words often sound a little bit garbled and are sometimes hard to understand. This does not appear to be limited to any particular breed, though to quote trainer A.J. Haggerty:

"Generally, dogs that have a brachycephalic head — a wide head with a short muzzle — like the Bulldog, are good candidates for talking. They have cavernous mouths that make it easier for them to produce rounder sounds. I have found that Rottweilers are among the best talkers, because of the shape of their heads, and the fact that they have a high energy level. Terriers can also be good talkers, because they're high energy dogs."

Last Update: 12/02/08 16:03 Views: 6174

OzPetShop - Pet Products, Supplies and Accessories