Updated: Feb 20
Tips to understand what your dog is communicating
Donna Gleason, CDBC, CPDT, MA, CCBS Research Associate
Allie Tellier, CCBS Executive Director
Vivian Zottola, MSc, CBCC, CCBS Research Associate
Love is an important part of the human-dog bond. As humans, we believe dogs reciprocate our feelings, but is it true? Many animals use body language and vocalization to express themselves. However when it comes to showing affection, a hug and a kiss does not mean the same to dogs.
Dr. Gregory Berns and other scientists researching human and animal behavior found that dogs are capable of feeling similar emotions including love and attachment for their people (Functional MRI in Awake Unrestrained Dogs). “Merely gazing into our furry friends eyes can release a cascade of bonding hormones. And while this science may be true, where we go wrong is assuming dogs are not individuals with their own particular likes and dislikes, even experiencing bad days” says Vivian Zottola, MSc, CBCC, and Research Associate for the Center for Canine Behavior Studies.
A dog’s communicative world is much different than a person, who uses words to express their likes, dislikes, wants and feelings. Interpreting canine communication takes practice, time, and attention to big and small details. Did you know, most dogs do not like it when another (dog or person) leans over them, stares at them, or holds/ hugs them for long? However, most dogs learn to tolerate these behaviors from their trusted people and owners. If a dog advances toward you in a natural and wiggly way, leaning, nuzzling, or nudging your hand, they are asking for affection. Some dogs communicate very subtly as well. One might look away, walk or even run away, telling us they need space. The idea of consenting is very important and helpful when engaging with a dog.
When attempting to decipher what your dog is trying to communicate - think of the phrase coined by Family Paws, “Ears, eyes, tail, and muzzle gather all the clues and solve the puzzle.” Observe the “whole dog” from muzzle to tail, instead of focusing on one area. Are they licking their lips? Does your dog have a hard or soft stare? Are they yawning? What is the position of the tail? What environmental factors might be affecting the behavior of your dog? We’ll help you put these pieces together to better understand your dog: