The More You Know: How Do Dogs Communicate?
Have you ever wondered how dogs communicate with each other? You’ve probably noticed that, even though they can’t talk, dogs will have arguments and/or agreements within the pack, just as humans do. The canine language seems to be mysterious in lots of ways for the human owner, but let me tell you, it’s far easier than we all think.
I remember the first night my little Lenni spent with me, right after I picked him up from the shelter. At some point I went to sleep and suddenly he woke me up in the middle of the night with a really strange barking sound, which I then heard for the first time. I wondered what might be wrong. I opened the door to the garden, but he didn’t need to go out. I touched his body to see if maybe he'd hurt himself somehow, but nothing had happened. Then I remembered: Lenni got very sick in the car that day, and as his stomach was upset, he didn’t want to eat when we first got home. So I tried again, and BINGO. He was very hungry and ate a bowl full of kibble. It took me a while to understand what he was trying to say, but now I look back at it and see that it was so clear!
That’s why I decided to make this my next blog post. I want to make it easier for you to understand what your Fluffy Friend is trying to tell you. We’ll go over some typical body language, sounds and behaviours that all dogs use to communicate with each other. Feeling curious? Keep on reading!
Why is it crucial to socialise your Fluffy Friend
As pet-owners we often think we’re communicating clearly by directing and vocalising to our pets, but the truth is, that it’s not a way of communication that our dog can actually understand. They can only interpret in the best way they can.
Body language, vocalisation, and scent cues are all used in canine communication. These cues reinforce the dog's social standing within the pack. Your dog's ancestors survived by banding together in packs to hunt, protect the young, and defend their territory from intruders. This means that dogs are social creatures that have it in their nature to live in packs, so they require an own dog language formed by a system of common signals to communicate.
Not only does dog language allow dogs to communicate and understand one another. It is also a conflict resolution system, with calming signals that prevent fights. Once you understand how dogs communicate and how they interpret your verbal and nonverbal body language, you’ll be able to understand these signals and analyse your Fluffy Friend’s behaviour with other dogs more effectively.
First and foremost, dogs use their body language as primary mode of communication. They understand this shared language through a combination of innate knowledge and learning, similar to how humans learn how to use facial expressions. Learning helps you understand other people better.
Understanding our Fluffy Friend’s body language doesn’t come naturally to us, so many people interpret their dog's body language incorrectly. This misunderstanding can lead to dangerous situations, such as mistaking a stressed dog for a completely fine one.
Here's a quick rundown of the different body language cues that dogs usually use:
A dog's head usually points in the direction of where they want to go. A dog pointing their muzzle directly at another may indicate aggression. Alternatively, turning their head away can indicate friendliness. Many dogs will greet others by tilting their heads to one side to indicate they’re not a threat.
The shape of your Fluffy Friend’s mouth can be important in other ways. A dog with a loose jaw is usually relaxed and content. Panting, on the other hand, can be a sign of stress. Some dogs exhibit some type of "smiling," which can be interpreted as a positive social signal.
Dogs, like humans, may yawn to help them stay awake. Yawning can also be used in an attempt to calm down an aggressive dog. This is usually followed by the animal turning their head away.
Eye contact is, as often falsely believed, not a sign of hostility. A dog may "ignore" another in order to defuse a potentially aggressive situation, so if your pooch is looking away from other dogs, it could mean they're not happy.
When a dog looks down at something, it indicates that it’s both interested and unsure. A relaxed dog's eyes will move around with ease.
The tail of a dog is a vital sign. A stiff tail indicates aggression or uneasiness. If your pooch’s tail is sticking straight out, it is most likely an indication of aggression. A stiffly tucked tail between the legs could indicate fear.
A wagging tail doesn’t always indicate that the dog is content. When dogs are insecure about a situation, they may wag their tails as well.
Another vital sign to look for in dogs is their ears. Erect ears are frequently associated with alertness. Ears that are stiff but drawn back may indicate aggression or fear. Dogs will often flatten their ears before a fight because they don't want the other dog to bite their ears. However, pulled-down dog ears are often a calming sign. However, the shape of a dog's ears can influence how this communication works. We strongly advise you to not alter your Fluffy Friend’s ears, as this can have serious consequences in his way of being understood by other dogs.
Dogs can communicate with their bodies in a variety of ways. Bristled fur, for example, frequently indicates aggression. When a dog is aggressive or excited, it may stand upright. Lowering the body has the opposite effect and may indicate fear in the dog. A crouched posture, also known as the "play bow," indicates that the dog wants to play.
As you know, dogs vocalise their needs too. The noises your pooch makes can be classified into two types: long range and short range. This is similar to how coyotes and wolves communicate. Sound travels long distances, so howls, barks, yips, snarls, and growls are more easily understood.
Barks can convey a variety of messages, including excitement, fear, a desire for food or water, and more. To express surprise or distress, your dog may bark quickly. Continuous, slow barking is frequently more aggressive — the dog is aware of the threat and doesn’t like it. Many dogs will happily bark when they see someone they recognize.
Growling can be aggressive, but not always. A higher-pitched growl could indicate surprise or that they’re playing. The majority of dogs will also howl. It could indicate that the dog is bored or lonely. In some cases, there can be sounds that naturally trigger your Fluffy Friend’s howling response, such as an ambulance siren, or another dog's howling.
Hormones and smells
Last but not least: the dog’s magical nose. Dogs have extremely sensitive noses and they communicate using pheromones, which humans cannot detect. Depending on which mood your dog has, it will smell differently to other dogs.
Pheromones also reveal gender and age. When a female is in heat, her scent changes. Pregnant dogs smell differently as well. These pheromones are primarily produced in urine, and they assist the dog in determining how others around them are feeling. This is also why dogs sniff each other’s behinds when they meet — it helps them learn about the other dog’s current status.
Scent signals do not require the presence of the dog to convey a message. Urine scent can be left behind to warn other dogs of their presence. Anal gland scents can be left when a dog defecates, which is normal, or they can be expressed when a dog is extremely nervous or fearful, leaving a lingering odor.
So, as it turns out, dogs and humans communicate similarly in many ways. Let’s summarise:
Body language is crucial and vocal signals reveal a dog's mood, however, they’re less common and less important than visual signals, as they don't convey a wide range of emotions and aren't used nearly as frequently. Body language is always used by dogs, while vocal signals are only used when necessary.
Pheromones are constantly produced by dogs. These scents aren’t detectable by humans. Dogs, on the other hand, use them to communicate a wide range of information.
While some of the communication comes naturally to dogs, practice does make perfect. Unsocialised dogs may have difficulty communicating, which makes them more aggressive and fearful as they actually have no idea what the other dog is saying.
We recommend you to pay attention to both the visual and auditory language of your Fluffy Friend and learn their way of communicating. This will definitely improve your dynamic and strengthen the relationship with your pooch!
How does your pooch communicate with others? I encourage you to write in the comments down below and tell us all about the signs and language that your Fluffy Friend uses. Every doggie is different! By sharing our experiences we’re becoming better dog-owners.
Until next time, stay Fluffy,
Your MrFluffyFriend Team
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Words from our author
As a pet owner, I often found myself in a very frustrating situation: going to the internet and finding multiple unhelpful and redundant articles about the care and training of pets. My mission is to create a community blog where you can find all types of information, training tipps and tricks, focusing on natural and organic ways of pet-owning and training. Understanding your pet is like understanding a whole new world - and I want us to discover it together!