Understanding Dog Body Language and Barks

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November 17, 2011
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Dogs communicate with us and express their hesitations, agitation, and happiness with their body language and barks. Have you ever seen your dog lay his ears back when meeting a stranger? Or does she grunt or mutters when you’re eating dinner or when she has a ball and comes over to you? Do you know what she is thinking, wants, or feels?

Dogs communicate with us just as we do with them but sometimes we may not know what they are trying to tell us with their tails, ears, stance, or barks and grunts. They may not always know what we are asking them to do as well, acting or talking in a surprised tone may confuse your dog and she might think you’re excited. A sarcastic tone may not mean anything to your dog and she might sit there tilting her head or ignore you. Standing slouched might make a dog think you’re scared when in reality you’re just tired. Just as a dog who yawns isn’t always tired, it can also express discomfort.

To bridge the gaps in communication between you and your pup, here are a few basic body and verbal cues:

1: Relaxed and Confident- the tail wags slowly and may not be standing straight up, the ears are pricked up but relaxed, the eyes aren’t dilated, and mouth may be closed or slightly open.

2: Anxious or Fearful – might be standing with legs bent to be lower to the ground, the tail tucks under or goes down, the ears are down, eyes are big with some whites showing, and the mouth may be closed or open with panting and some drooling.

3: Aggressive – stance is rigid and tight, the tail is straight up and stiff, ears are pricked up, eyes are staring intensely, lips are pulled back and some teeth might be showing, the hairline of the back is standing up.

4: Relaxed – stance is soft with no alertness or might be lying down, tail is hanging naturally and may wag, ears are relaxed and natural for the breed, eyes are normal, and the mouth is open a little or closed in a relaxed state.

5: Howling – can signal they are trying to locate someone. Dogs may howl when their owners leave the house or may join in if another dog is heard howling as if to help. Dogs sometimes howl at a certain musical note or song, as if to find what that noise is.

6: Grunts and muttering – usually this is to indicate they want something. Dogs learn that attention barking may not work and grunts can be more acceptable to their owners. If your dog comes over with a toy in its mouth and grunts, they may be asking you to play with them. Grunting or muttering noises when you have food is their way of asking for some.

7: Whimpering – dogs whimper when they’re anxious or hurt. Dogs tend to whimper if their owner leaves the house or if they hurt themselves. Some dogs whimper when they know they are about to see their owner, such as being picked up daycare. They are excited but whimper because they can’t wait to go home and become anxious as they watch their buddies go home before them.

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