Dogs, like humans, can communicate what is going on with them. The only difference is that humans primarily utilize verbal communication while dogs communicate non-verbally. The non-verbal communication of dogs is characterized by vocalizations and the use of body language. This body language comprises of facial expressions, body position and movement, ear and eye position as well as tail carriage and motion.
How to communicate with a dog
Whenever one is observing a dog’s body language so as to decipher what is being communicated, it is important that the entire dog is keenly observed. This helps in accurately determining what the dog is trying to convey to you.
When a dog is frightened, it is likely to react to the fearful stimulus with his/her entire body. The body language will exhibit a combination of many signals and is likely to appear as a progression via these signals as the response of the dog intensifies. The dog might lick the lips but not to indicate hunger or fatigue. The dog may lower his body or cower, tuck his tail or lower it or even put his ears back. The dog may shake or tremble, avoid eye contact or lean back in an attempt to avoid the stimulus that is frightening.
Arousal communication in dogs may be due to a number of factors such as age, personality, lack of mental and physical outlets and even confinement. An arousal is usually a response to a likeable stimulus to the dog like a toy, another dog or a person. Common body language for a dog’s arousal include mouthing, mounting and jumping. An aroused dog might have pointed ears, an erect body stance and its fur may be standing up (pilo-erect). Other body languages of arousal are a raised tail that is wagging stiffly, focused eyes that are wide open and barking.
The body language of a dog that is anxious includes lack of focus, excessive pacing and panting. A dog may also display anxious communication towards a fearful dog. Other signs of anxiety include heavy drooling or shedding, slow wagging of the tail, moving or looking away from people and jumping of the side walls of a kennel with no one approaching.
Dogs will exhibit aggressive communication when they perceive a threat like an inanimate object, another dog or person. Aggressive communication by dogs conveys the message that it will defend its possessions, its territory and itself at any cost. Aggressive body language comprises of air snapping, growling, barking, showing teeth, wrinkled nose, curled lips, tense mouth, freezing of the body or stiffening. Heeding is always the best way of preventing the escalation of a dog’s aggressive communication.
A dog displays a relaxed communication when he/she is happy and does not have a care in the world. The body language of relaxed communication includes wagging the tail in a manner that is swishing back and forth, soft eyes, loose body, ears and head placed in a neutral position and lying down in a frog-leg position.
Learning such body language so as to know how to communicate with a dog takes observation, time and of course practice. It is also important to note that a dog is likely to display more than a single group of signals in a similar situation. It is through reading the entire dog, the situation as well as the whole context that we can fully grasp what a dog is trying to communicate and the appropriate response to give as communication is two-way.