Much like humans, dogs are social creatures by nature. The pups that live in our homes evolved from wild dogs and wolves that formed packs in order to survive. Communication is an integral part of pack life. Dogs in a pack need to keep each other safe by communicating warnings, show affection, dominance and more.
Understanding how your own dog communicates can strengthen your bond and help you assist your dog socially around other canines. But how do dogs communicate?
When we think of dog communication, many of us immediately think about barking. We talk, so dogs bark. Right? Well, partially. Dogs certainly communicate vocally, but most of your dog’s communication is nonverbal. They communicate many needs, thoughts and feelings with body language.
So what exactly is your dog trying to tell you when they gaze up moving their eyebrows? How about when their ears go back, or their tail wags low and steady? Here we’ll discuss the different ways your dog communicates with you and other dogs. And we’ll help you learn how to understand dogs once and for all.
The three ways that your dog communicates are: vocally, with their body language, and through scent. The main form being with their body (source). Let’s take a look at these forms of communication more in-depth.
Dogs communicate vocally in a variety of forms. Just think about your own dog. You’ve likely heard barks, whines, howls, yips, growls, and squeaks. Most often, dogs use their vocal communication to convey frustration in some form, but some dogs use sound to show they’re happy too (source). So why exactly do dogs bark? And the other vocalizations?
Your dog will use five main types of vocalizations, but you probably notice a range within each category depending on their level of distress or urgency (source).
Dogs communicate a wide range of thoughts, emotions, and needs through body language. They use their ears, eyes, tail, body position, movement, and face in these actions. It’s far more involved than a happy, wagging tail.
When you are observing your dog’s body language communication, take the situation and context into account and be sure to study their entire body. For example, the way the ears and eyes work together, or ears and tail work together can change the meaning of how they might be feeling (source).
Related Reading: How to Tell if Your Dog is Happy
The last way that dogs communicate is far subtler to humans, but can play a big role in how your dog communicates with other dogs—their scent! Dogs can purposely communicate through scent, by marking things with their urine, poop, and body. You might have seen your dog roll vigorously on the ground somewhere—this is to mark it with their scent and let other dogs (or animals) know they’ve been there or that it's theirs.
But dogs also communicate unintentionally with scent. When they are scared or nervous many dogs let off an unconscious odor that other dogs can smell. Dogs also all have their own unique smell that identifies them. This is why you’ve often seen dogs greet each other by sniffing each other’s butts. It’s often referred to as the equivalent of a handshake (source).
Now you know that dogs communicate in many ways. They have complex emotions and thoughts, just like humans. Taking the time to learn how dogs communicate vocally, and with their bodies helps you better understand your furry friend. But you’re not the only one making the effort!
Dogs are well aware that humans communicate primarily through vocalizations, but also with body language. Dogs have evolved to learn a wide vocabulary of human words and can even pick up on our tone and intonation to gather meaning. They’re also experts at studying our behaviors, body language, and routines and can pick up subtle messages from us by what we do and how we act as well.
So, meet your dog halfway and you'll both benefit! Every good relationship is built on communication and trust, am I right?
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