How dog's communicate with us and each other
For Humans, communication with each other comes easy and dogs have their own way of communicating and listening to each other too. For us to understand what they are saying we need to decipher their mostly non-verbal cues and body language. Just like us dogs feel emotions and they convey this through body language. To get an understanding of what they are saying we need to look at the dog as a whole. For example a dog with a wagging tail does not necessarily mean they are happy.
Dogs communicating with each other
Dogs have a marvellous and universal language, two dogs from opposite corners of the world can easily communicate instantly and understand the language that is being displayed.
Sometimes we can misinterpret their language, often we think a growl means aggression, but it can also be displayed during play or just as a warning. As responsible dog owners, we must trust our dogs and allow them to be able to communicate effectively with each other. If we tell our dogs they are naughty for giving another dog a warning they may not give warnings in future and it could instantly escalate into a fight.
Dogs have extremely subtle cues and ways of communicating with each, inviting another dog to play can take as little as a bow and a fraction of a second.
Yianni and Yoko have the most incredible relationship, watching them grow together has been incredible and watching their communication with each other is fascinating. Some examples of communication we have seen:
- If Yianni or Yoko have something (food or a toy) and the other approaches, they will freeze and give a look that takes no less than a second to understand. They will sit, only when they move away from what they had, will they then investigate further or take their turn. On the odd occasion, they do persist then a growl will be emitted to communicate they are serious and they will then sit and wait.
- Yianni and Yoko have developed their own way of inviting play, sometimes they will play bow but they more often than not start stalking each other, the intense staring can last several minutes before one decides to leap into action and play commences.
- Yoko is definitely the more excitable one of our two dogs and Yianni will place his paw on her back to tell her to calm down when she gets over-excited.
Dogs communicating with us
Whilst humans use mostly verbal communication, dogs use non-verbal communication and they have learnt to tell us what they want, from giving us a lick to let us know they want some attention to rolling over for a belly scratch. They have many ways of communicating with us to express their emotions too, from letting us know they are scared, excited or anxious. Though highly situational these are some common behaviours that your dog may display to express their emotion:
Fearful dog behaviour:
Lip licking, yawning or tightly closed mouth, cowering, tail tucked, ears back, avoiding eye contact with the perceived threat. (A fearful dog has the potential to turn into an aggressive dog if the perceived threat continues)
Yoko is scared of bike bells which she barks at and fireworks. We were careful when she was a puppy not to smother her too much to reinforce this fear and she is much less scared of fireworks as she gets older.
Yianni's biggest fear is not being in the same room as us haha! Luckily the dogs go everywhere with us but on the rare occasion they can't, we always leave the TV on for some background noise and fill the room with the calming scent of Lavender essential oil.
Excited dog behaviour:
Jumping, hair on back erect, tail wagging quickly and stiff, ears up, barking, lunging (these behaviours can be paired with fearful, anxious or aggressive signals)
Yoko is extremely excitable especially when we have visitors, she is the most affectionate little dog but is a little too much for guests with jumping and licking when they come in, we ask them to not acknowledge her until she is calm. Not so easy when her face is looking up at you!
Yianni is cool, calm and collected, he gets most excited for playtime and food!
Anxious dog behaviour:
Excessive panting, pacing, licking lips, yawning, ears back, lower body stance, slow tail wag. (anxious behaviour can also be paired with excited behaviour)
Aggressive dog behaviour:
Aggression is a normal and natural behaviour in dogs and animals to protect themselves and what they deem are their possessions. In most cases, aggressive body cues and verbalisations are a warning to let another dog or human know they are willing to protect themselves from a perceived threat.
Stiff body or freezing, wide eyes, tense mouth or curled lips, wrinkled nose, showing teeth, barking, growling, tail wagging quickly upright and stiff.
If you think your dog has aggressive tendencies that go beyond warnings and think someone could be hurt, it would be good to seek professional advice and help to prevent this happening.
We allow both Yianni and Yoko to growl at each other and we do not involve ourselves in their conversation unless we feel uncomfortable or if we felt it was ever-escalating. Up to now we have never had a problem and they have a wonderful relationship, but we will always be observant of their communication in case this was to change.
Yoko used to be quite possessive when sitting on our laps. If another dog approached and she growled whilst on our laps, we would put her on the floor, showing her that possession is not acceptable in that situation. In doing this it has stopped this behaviour in Yoko.
Relaxed dog behaviour:
Nothing is better than seeing our dogs relaxed! Your dog may have a relaxed posture, body and mouth loose and possibly "smiling", slow tail wag or circular motion.
Yianni and Yoko's favourite past time is relaxing, napping and snoozing.
Our language with Dogs
As dog parents we often develop our own way of communicating with our dogs, we know if Yianni wants his chest scratched (one of his favourite things) he will come up to us and emit a playful growl until he gets what he wants, if we stop he will paw our arms to continue. We know if Yoko has done something naughty, as she will seek us out after she has done it and submit on the floor in front of us wagging her tail (lol!).
With other dogs though we need to understand that what we communicate they may misinterpret.
Humans often greet each other with a friendly hug or kiss, and sometimes with face to face eye contact, to dogs, this is a threatening and inappropriate form of contact, though they accept this form of behaviour from us, sometimes they do not especially at risk are children.
A good rule is to never stroke a dog that doesn't initiate contact, a great way to invite this is to squat down to their level and hold your hand out so they can have a sniff and meet you. When a dog is sniffing they are gathering information.
If the dog has his ears back and has a loose body posture that is most likely friendly behaviour and an invite to show some affection. Most dogs really dislike being petted on top of the head, instead slowly stroke the chest, neck and base of the neck and tail.
We hope this information has been helpful and if have any comments or suggestions on the above we would love to hear in the comments below!
Love from the Aurora Pets Team x