What did that dog say?



“What Did That Dog Say?”~How to Understand What Your Dog is Telling You

Written by-Marti Verne


Have you ever heard or spoken the following statement during a conversation?  “My dog is so smart; I could swear he is talking to me”. Many of us who think of our pets as family members have conversations that included statements very much like that one.  The majority of our die-hard, pet loving group tend to “humanize” our pets, I personally-have even been known to speak for mine, giving them their own individual personality.  Incidentally my Husband really hates that for the simple reason that my doing so is the very reason we have the number of animals that we have-it makes it nearly impossible for him to say “no”. 

While animals do not literally “speak” to us, they certainly do “talk” to us through body language and even vocalizations.  There are things that are for the most part universal, such as a wagging tail- generally meaning a happy dog versus a growling dog signaling that you should proceed with great caution.  However, there is far more to learn about our faithful friends that as a rule-is not so obvious. In actuality, for example- a wagging tail does not always mean a dog is happy.  There are dogs that may be aggressive yet still wag their tails when a stranger approaches.  The secret is in knowing how to read other clues from the dog’s body language.  A person who is familiar with what to look for might also note the position of the ears-are they perked up or plastered to the dog’s head.  If they are laid back, this is not a good sign.  One might also note if the animal’s “hackles” or the short hairs, along his back are raised, if they are- be careful!  On the other hand, generally it is understood that if a dog is baring her teeth that it is a vicious dog, that is probably true more often than not, but say in the case of my little dog “Prissy” when she bears her teeth she is literally “smiling” at you!  A person would know this due to the fact that the bared teeth are accompanied by a wildly wagging tail including her rear-end, there are no hackles raised along her back and she is nuzzling you.  The bottom line is that animals each have their own personality, and little quirks and a person just has to get to know the animal to learn what holds true as far as what is true “across the board” with most dogs and what is not when it comes to the animal in question.

One thing we must always keep in mind is that the ancestor of all dogs is the wolf.  That being said, there are things that still hold true in the dog.  Such as the fact that although they do not literally live in a pack of dogs- as their ancestors did, they do view other animals, as well as the humans in their home as their “pack”. That being the case, it falls to you to be the leader of that pack. Dogs communicate among themselves through vocalization, body language as well as with facial expression-so it stands to reason that since your dog views you as another member of his pack he will try to communicate with you in the same way.  One way dogs show their dominance is through eye contact, so if you are trying to let the dog know you are the leader, you should not break eye contact with him until he looks away first.  This tells him you are stronger.  However, you should not do this with a strange dog unless you are very experienced in dog behaviors and communications, as doing so could lead to the dog attacking you if he considers himself the leader or “Alpha Male” and is very aggressive.

Dogs do understand you, as they are able to recognize hundreds of human sounds, however they cannot string them together, this is the reason you should keep your commands short and firm.  For instance, he will understand “come”!  Better than he responds to, “walk over here Buster!”

Body language is a very good indicator of what a dog is feeling a few examples would be-If she were relaxed and content as you approach, she will stand at her full height; her tail may wag slowly, her ears perked up, and her mouth relaxed, as is her general stance. If a dog is feeling afraid, she may crouch down, her tail tucked between her legs, her ears may be down, her eyes wide and she may pant.  If a dog is feeling aggressive, his stance is often very rigid, his tail rigid and straight out or up, ears pricked – his teeth are bared, his eyes focused on you intently. On the other hand if he is feeling playful or happy he will have an erect, relaxed stance he may wag his tail and perk his ears and his mouth should be relaxed.

So yes, dogs do indeed “speak” to us, we have only to learn their language.




Story By Marti