Although he may not use "words", your dog is always communicating. Dogs use their bodies to express their emotions, to show affection and to identify rank.
Unlike humans, dogs don’t hide their emotions — so what you see is what he’s really feeling. "Unfortunately, many people misinterpret a dog’s body language which can lead to problems," says a professional trainer at Best Friends Indianapolis (IN) Pet Resort. "It’s very important to carefully read the signs he’s giving you."
Following are some of her "translations" of dog communication – perhaps they’ll help you with your own efforts at dog training.
Dogs who are confident and comfortable will stand erect. Their tails will be up and wagging in a sweep. The ears may be pricked up or relaxed, and they will look directly at you. The mouth will be partially open in what some call a smile.
Dogs who are fearful will lower their stance. The tail will usually be down, tucked between his legs, although some dogs actually wag their tails when they are unsure and evaluating a situation. The fearful dog will not look directly at you. "If a dog turns his head away, he’s thinking, ‘hmmm. if I don’t see you, you don’t see me, and nothing bad’s going to happen to me," the trainer explains.
Dogs who are fearful or unsure may use "calming signals" to reduce stress for themselves or others with whom they’re interacting. Some of these signals include yawning, barking, intentionally becoming distracted, lip-licking, circling, sniffing the ground, or just sitting or lying down.
The trainer tells her students to "watch both ends of the dog." Certain breeds are hard to read – their tails are naturally curled up, and their ears are always perked up. "Some dogs don’t ever give any indication that they are going to bite," she says, "so watch the dog’s muzzle. A muzzle will twitch before a bite."
Other signs of aggression include stiff legs and body with the tail straight out, ears "pinned" back close to the head, a lowered head with eyes fixed intently at you. The lips are sometimes drawn back in a snarl and a low growl is heard.
Many people mistakenly believe that hackled hair on a dog’s back means they are aggressive, she says. However, "these are usually dogs who aren’t at all confident; they’re apprehensive, so hackled hair makes them look bigger."
Play bows are an invitation to play. The rear end is up, the front part of his body is down, and the tail is wagging. Rolling over onto his back with his belly up is a classic sign of submission (or a request for a belly rub). A dog that raises a paw with a bent foreleg is showing submission.
And more …
Of course, dog language goes far beyond these few examples. Individual pets develop their own techniques for communicating with us when they want to eat, go out, or be left alone.
It takes some observation to understand what your pet is "saying", but it’s well worth the effort: the more you understand what your pet is trying to tell you, the better your relationship can be.