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There's no Google translate for dog speak??

November 24, 2017


Due to dogs not being able to speak (other than barking, whining etc), the only way to truly comprehend and communicate with them is for us to understand and appreciate what they are telling us through their body and vocal language. Often, gestures or actions that we assume mean one thing are actually the dog telling us the exact opposite, and determining what that wagging tail or exposed tummy really means can sometimes be the difference between a belly rub and a bite.


Dogs communicate using a complex language of body signals that reflect what they are thinking and feeling. They use these signals consciously and unconsciously to communicate intent and ensure their personal safety by affecting behavior in others.


When a dog is not in a calm state, it only has three instinctual movements: fight, flight, or avoidance. In fight mode, the dog moves forward, and in flight mode it runs away. A dog may or may not move away in avoidance, but it will do everything else to not face the situation at hand.


Fight, flight, and avoidance are the traditional terms that animal behaviorists use, but they might be somewhat misleading because of the connotations they have. Another way to think of them is as advance, retreat, and ignore.

An excited dog and an aggressive dog may both move forward toward a person or other animal, but one of them is playful and the other one is threatening. Likewise, a dog may run away in fear or it may run away to start a game of chase with another dog.


This is where the dog’s emotional state comes into it and combines with the dog’s intention to create the dog’s overall energy and, as I mentioned above, dogs express their emotions through body language.


Every part of the dog is engaged, but the important ones to watch are the head, ears, tail, and back. The higher a dog’s head, ears, and tail are, the more dominant it is feeling, and the lower they are, the more submissive or uncertain the dog is feeling.


Another thing to watch for is tension, particularly in the dog’s back and legs. The more tense a dog is, the higher its energy level, like a spring being pulled taut. In both cases, they reach a point where they snap — the spring shoots back to its regular size, and the dog lunges forward.


A good example of a “fight” intention modified by body language to create positive energy is when a dog does a play bow to engage another dog. The motion is forward, but the front of the dog’s body is low to the ground. The intention is excitement but the emotion is friendly, so the energy is playful.

Here’s an opposite example: a dog may have its head, ears, and tail all raised. Perhaps it’s showing its teeth, and maybe the hackles on its back are up as well, but it is slowly backing away. The body language is showing aggression, but the intent is flight. Despite the aggressive display, this is a dog that is terrified of something.



When dogs are stressed and nervous they exhibit many different kinds of behavior that either help relieve the stress they are feeling or appease a perceived threat. While dogs like humans, yawn when they are tired, they are also much more likely to yawn when they are nervous. Lip licking does not always mean a dog is hungry or has just eaten either, but is a very clear stress signal that is performed when a dog is nervous or experiencing fear.


Body language to look out for:

  • Yawning can be a sign that a dog is tired, but it also signals stress

  • Lip licking or tongue flicking. Dogs lick their lips when nervous

  • Brief body freezing – the dog is still for a few seconds before reacting

  • Body freezing – the dog freezes until the threat goes away or he decides to use fight or flight

  • 'Whale Eye' – the dog turns his head away but keeps looking at the perceived threat, showing the whites of his eyes

  • Head turn – the dog will turn his head away from a fear source as a gesture of appeasement

  • Furrowed brow, curved eyebrows – caused by facial tension

  • Tense jaw – the mouth is closed, and the dog is preparing for action

  • Hugging – a dog will gain comfort by holding onto his owner

  • Low tail carriage – indicates discomfort and uncertainty

  • Curved tongue – the tongue is curved at the edges from tension

  • Raspy, dry-sounding panting –   nervousness reduces saliva production

  • Twitching whiskers – caused by facial tension

  • Shaking – caused by adrenaline release

  • Drooling – stress can also cause excessive salivation

  • Lack of focus – an anxious dog finds learning difficult

  • Sweaty paws – dogs sweat through their foot pads.

Deference language is designed to appease a perceived threat, avoid injury and is crucial for survival. If the dog engages in non-threatening behavior this helps deescalate the negative intentions of another animal or human. Most appeasement behavior is extremely submissive with the dog lowering the body, making it appear smaller and less threatening. Socially appropriate dogs will respond positively to this deference while others often take advantage of what they perceive as weakness.


Body language to look out for:

  • Head bobbing or lowering

  • Head turning

  • Averting eyes

  • Lip licking

  • Low tail carriage

  • Tail tucked between the legs

  • Curved and lowered body

  • Stomach flip – the dog flips over quickly, exposing his stomach; he is not asking for a belly rub, but signaling that he is withdrawing from interaction.

Dogs are naturally curious animals and the more confident they are, the more they can deal with novelty and change. All dogs will size up any situation to ensure safety using the following language:

  • Head cocked to one side or the other

  • Front paw lifted - anticipating what will happen and what the dog should do next

  • Mouth closed - sizing up the situation in preparation for action.

Defensive and Offensive
When a dog has to defend herself from an actual or perceived threat she will demonstrate defensive or offensive language in order to keep herself safe. This language manifests itself in behaviors that encourage a threat to keep their distance. If the threat does not back away and the dog has nowhere to go, defensive behavior will turn offensive and the dog will bite.   These behaviors are usually easy to recognize and understand.


Body language to look out for:

  • Body leaning forward

  • Tense mouth

  • Lips pushed forward and vibrating as the dog growls

  • Air snapping - the dog snaps in the air to warn something to back away

  • Snapping with skin contact - also a warning to back away

  • Fast nip – an immediate bite and release with bruising or slight wound, telling a threat to back off

  • Deeper bite – a dog that bites with more intensity is intending to harm

  • Bite and hold - intent to harm

  • Bite, hold, and shake – intent to harm and potentially to kill. Some dogs will bite, hold, shake, and disembowel stuffed toys, simulating the killing of prey; while this is prevalent among dogs with high prey drive, even dogs with low drive can indulge in behavior of this type. If your dog likes to disembowel stuffed toys, this doesn’t mean he wants to do the same with people or other animals. Sadie loves to disembowel toys, but she is incredibly gentle with people, especially children.

  • Wagging tail – again, a wagging tail does not always mean a happy dog

  • Hard, staring eyes

There is nothing better than being with a happy dog. The body is fluid and relaxed, the mouth is slightly open with tongue hanging to the side and all the signals a dog gives off communicate joy, confidence and a desire to invite play and attention.


Body language to look out for:

  • Mouth slightly open, tongue relaxed and lolling to one side.

  • Small body freezes during play.

  • Play bow – this signal invites play and tells others that whatever action comes next is still just play.

  • Turning over, inviting belly rub – showing trust and enjoying social contact.

  • Relaxed facial expression.

  • Squinty or blinking eyes.

  • Tail wagging fast, either side to side or in a round motion like a helicopter.

  • Wiggling backside.



Websites which helped with this information:



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