The Language of Dogs


Dog1Whether you’re a cat or dog person, or even a… turtle person, knowing what your pet is trying to say to you is essential for its wellbeing. Although it might sometimes be easier to understand what your dog is trying to tell you than your hamster, most animals tend to communicate primarily through body language. Today we will take a closer look at specifically the language of dogs.

When a dog wags its tail, it seems to be commonly known that he is happy, excited and playful, and if he tends to leap towards you as you walk in the door, he is obviously so excited that he doesn’t know what to do with himself. While these signs are all positive and show that your pet loves you above anything else, there may be some other signs to watch out for.

Depending on what kind of dog you are accustomed to, they may behave differently. In particular, this depends on whether you have a guard or watch dog. The former may be aggressive, but if trained correctly, they can be one of the most faithful of companions. The main difference between a guard and watch dog is that the latter will alert you by barking loudly to intimidate an intruder, but may seldom attack. On the other hand, a guard dog will on command or on its own volition defend its territory by attacking.

Click here to find a list of the best dogs for watching and guarding.

Spotting the kind of behaviour demonstrated by the variety of dogs is therefore essential when you consider approaching a furry stranger. An alert body language is often characterised by wide eyes, and forward pointing ears, yet the mouth is often closed.  At this stage he is merely checking things out by perhaps barking, but he may opt for an aggressive stance if needed.

The aggressive body language is mostly characterised by growling with a slight forward stance. This displays dominance, and depending on the kind of dog, he may attack if challenged or approached quickly. More telltale signs to watch out for are his teeth and gum, which are often visible alongside with the distinctive growling and barking. The most distinguishing body language to look for, however, is the tail: while it may sometimes seem as if he is wagging, this is not the intention. Instead, the tail is often raised and bristled, but very stiff and may vibrate from side to side.

Another sometimes confusing sign is a mix between a fearful and aggressive stance. Although the dog may opt to attack when showing this body language, he also feels threatened. The main difference here is that he is not displaying dominance, and does this by lowering his body. Moreover, his tail is tucked between his legs and rarely moves. His teeth may or may not be visible also, but the easiest sign to watch out for is how he moves his ears back. Approaching a dog displaying this kind of behaviour towards you would not be suggested unless you know the owner.

So, there you have it: some good signs to watch out for when attending to our best friend. All this aside, dogs sometimes seem to be one of the happiest of animals. To them life is amazing, alongside balls and sticks, even chasing your tail is interesting. Yet, to a dog the most amazing thing in his life is of course YOU. While your life is long and full of people, his life is short and the only thing he has is you, so treat your dog right!

To find out more about the language of dogs click here.

Click here for a short list on dog terminology.




How to read your dog’s body language

How to communicate with your dog




By Oscar Larsson
Student at University of Glasgow, School of Social & Political Sciences
Communication Trainee at TermCoord