Mis-Reading Dog Body Language

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Dog body language

Can you talk dog? No? Really? Well then, does your dog speak English? No? Huh… Well how on earth are you going to communicate with your dogs?  It’s just ripe for problems, misunderstandings and incomprehension.

If you want to gain a deeper understanding of the subtle signals your dog is using to talk to other dogs and to you, keep reading!

By taking time to learn the following six tips, you will be able to enjoy a deeper connection with your dog, be able to manage dog interactions better, provide them with a secure feeling and be amazed by how amazing they truly are.

1.  Take the time to learn the language

This isn’t like learning a foreign language, it’s more like learning the language of an alien from another planet.  We speak with our voices, they speak with their bodies.  Even if you think you know dogs because you’ve been around them most of your life, more often than not you actually misunderstand more than you understand.  We’ve grown up with many misconceptions, like that a dog rolling over, looking away, or lowering his head is a sign of guilt.  Dogs actually don’t even feel guilt!  So really dive deep into learning body language: enroll in a course, watch videos or read books dedicated to the subject matter.

2. Remember that a dog is a dog, not a human

It’s very easy for us to look at dog behavior and interpret it through a human lens.  We very often ascribe human motivation to dog behavior and this is at the root of most of our struggles and misunderstandings.

As an example, because we know right from wrong, we assume they do as well.  How many times have you said, or have you heard someone say, that “he knew better”?  But dogs are not humans.  They don’t feel guilt and they don’t seek revenge.  They also don’t care about their status.  These are all human qualities.  One of the beautiful things about dogs is that they lack these not so attractive human qualities!

So in addition to learning about the body language and signals that dogs use, you also need to learn about their intentions and their motivation.  They don’t do things for the same reasons we do things.

Canine body language

3.  Don’t just read a part of the dog, read the whole dog

Very often you will see people describing how a dog is feeling or what he is saying but looking only at one body part, like his tail for example.  When a dog communicates, he is a sum of his parts, not just his individual parts.  A wagging tail can mean many different things depending on what is going on with the rest of the dog!  So don’t just look at the individual words, read the whole sentence.

4.  Pay attention to context

When you are trying to understand what your dog is saying, you need to also look at the environment.  What is happening around the dog?  Are there novel things nearby, other dogs, other people, distractions like a cat or a squirrel, unusual noises? If you take into account everything that is going on outside the dog, it will help you decipher what’s going on inside the dog.  And by getting the whole picture, you can help the dog out if he is asking for help by changing the environment.

Dog communication

5. It’s not all black and white

Don’t see only black and white.  The grey area is SO important. Dogs can be unsure, confused, ambivalent.  It’s not uncommon to see a dog engaged in play while also showing a lot of stress signals, or having a mixture of fear and anger.  If you witness your dog showing mixed signals, try to figure out how you can help alleviate the more serious of the signals.  So if your dog is playing with another dog but also doing a lot of lip licking, perhaps you can help move him away to relieve the stress and allow him the possibility of disengaging.

6.  Don’t forget to read the other dogs as well

When there is a conversation happening between more than one dog, make sure and watch all the dogs, not just yours.  If you only look at your dog, you’re only getting half the conversation.  By watching the other dogs, you may get clues as to what your dog is trying to say.

Take the time to listen to your dog and a whole new level of understanding, communication, and bonding will emerge and your relationship will only get stronger.