Your dog may be one of your closest confidantes, an avid listener who never spills your secrets. The question is, how does he reciprocate? No matter how smart your dog is, he'll never be able to speak English. However, if you pay attention to his cues, you'll be able to speak a little of the same language.
Pleased to Meet You
If you've been around enough dogs, you've likely experienced a rather embarrassing first meeting -- the kind where a dog gets a little too up close and personal. When a dog sniffs your crotch, he's sizing you up, just as if you were a fellow dog. Consider how your dog behaves when he meets another dog. They don't shake hands or slap each other's back; they sniff each other, specifically each other's private business, which isn't all that private to another dog.
A dog's nose is the gateway to a huge amount of information. When he smells another dog's butt, or your crotch, he's processing details about gender, mood and health of whomever he's checking out. Instead of asking "How do you do?" he's sniffing out the answer for himself.
You may have had a conversation with someone and noticed that what he says doesn't match up with what his facial expression says. In people, eyes and facial expression can say much more than words and that can be true with dogs, too.
Your dog can express his mood with his eyes. When he's happy and at ease, his eyes will be their normal shape; if he's stressed or frightened, his eyes are often larger than normal. Squinting eyes often convey pain or not feeling well. If he looks directly at you with a relaxed expression, he's open to engagement; that same direct stare with a tense expression can be threatening, so it's best to slowly look away from an intimidating stare. Submission is signaled by an averted gaze, both by you or your dog.
If your dog's relaxed and happy, you may not see a smile, but instead, his mouth will be slightly open or closed. A frightened or submissive dog also often has his mouth closed, sometimes with his lips pulled back a bit at the corners, or his tongue flicking in and out. Yawning can signal stress. If he's very submissive, he may show a submissive grin, pulling his lips up vertically to display his front teeth. This is different from an aggressive show of teeth, which flashes front teeth and a wrinkled muzzle. If you see his front and back teeth, the dog is likely afraid. If his mouth is open and you see his teeth, he's probably getting ready to bite.
In their natural state, your dog's ears tell you he's relaxed and happy. When something catches his interest, he raises them higher on his head and adjusts them to help him hear better. If he's feeling friendly, his ears will be pulled back a bit; if he flattens his ears, or sticks them to the side of his head, he's submissive or afraid.
Your dog's tail contains a wealth of information. The direction he wags can inform you if he's upbeat or not so happy. A wag to his right signals a positive feeling, while a wag towards his left means he's unhappy or unsure. An erect tail tells you he's interested in what's going on, while a tucked tail is a gesture of submission. He's not feeling much of anything special if his tail is level. A happy wag is at a leisurely pace, while an excited wag is a rapid, forceful movement.
Though he doesn't speak English, your dog can convey what he's thinking with a few vocal stylings. Like people, a whimper signals unhappiness and anxiety and a whine is often the result of frustration. A howl is his version of a long distance phone call -- kind of a "where are you?" shout-out -- while a growl is a warning to back off. A dog's bark can change according to the situation. You'll learn the difference between his "Hooray you're home bark!" and his "Who's this stranger at our door?" bark.
- Photo Credit Andriy Bandurenko/iStock/Getty Images
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