Understanding and Communicating With Your Dog Using Body Language



This article was provided to Pet Guardian Angels of America by Sam Cummings

Communication with your dog is a two-way street where you both take a nice, long walk side by side. There should be a mutual understanding as human language almost means nothing to your dog. Science has a lot to say about that (check out this article from Quartz Media). Therefore, there must a substitute to that; some other way for both of you to communicate effectively without misunderstandings.

You can teach your dog the basic commands, and he will be able to understand a minimum number of words. However, “stay here” and “wait” don’t mean the same thing for your dog.

Such an understanding helps diffuse hostile situations before they even spark. They can also help your dog feel more comfortable around you and other people. On the other hand, if this understanding is missing, the smallest confusion can cause your dog to become excessively aggressive

Below, you will learn how to communicate with and understanding with your dog effectively so that both of you can bond as much as possible.

Controlling and Understanding Your Body Language

Usually, the focus is on understanding your dog body language, but if you can’t consciously control your own, how can he possibly do so?

Studies have shown that the way humans interact with each other is often interpreted as a threat or a challenge when we use the same techniques with dogs. That confusion could cause a lot of conflict in your relationship, as well as your dog’s relationship with other humans.

So, it is good to know that there are a few things to avoid doing as a dog owner.

Direct Eye Contact

When you meet and greet a friend, you are most likely to have an eye-to-eye greeting as a show of mutual respect. A dog considers that a threat and a challenge that he has to accept or be dominated

If you have a shy dog, he may lay down as soon as you look straight at his eyes, but I don’t think a Rottweiler would be so submissive. Avoiding eye contact as much as possible is important when greeting or disciplining your dog. However, keep in mind that when you are being affectionate with your dog, the eye-contact makes the experience even more enjoyable.

Changing Command Gestures and Words:

A dog does not understand human language, he just associates it with something he did or you made him do as part of his training. Therefore, “stay” and “wait” have different meanings to him and using them interchangeably is confusing.

The same thing goes with common gestures that you use to correct your dog (not physical discipline, of course. It does NOT work!) or reward him. Dogs aren’t usually able to differentiate between the words and gestures, which makes it harder for them to be “good dogs”.

NOT Changing Tone of Voice

Dogs can understand vocalization as it is part of how they can communicate too. That’s why you have to able to use different tones of voice to convey different messages. When you are happy with your dog’s behavior, your tone of voice should be different than when you are correcting your dog or giving him commands.

Learn how to speak to puppies (and extend that to adult dogs) in this article from TheSpruce

Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language

As a wild canines, dogs interact with each other through body language and vocalization. They use the same language with us and expect us to reciprocate just the same. However, with years of domestication, they have grown accustomed to some of our signs, and we need to adapt to some of theirs too.

There are 5 different parts of your dog’s body that you need to learn how to interpret for a better understanding.


Starting off with the easiest one, the way your dog stands tells you about how he feels in a certain situation. Each of them is relatively easy to interpret as it can’t be missed. If your dog is leaning forward, he is most likely feeling challenged. That’s the stance that means “I am ready to engage if anything happens”.

If he is laying down, that is a submissive posture. He means no harm and usually wants to play.

Everything between could mean anything from your dog being uncertain and feeling confused, to being fearful.

Since your dog understands that you are the leader, you should calm him in all cases by making follow your commands in a firm voice.



Just like humans, you can learn a lot by looking at a dog’s eyes. They can be the scariest thing ever or the cutest. It depends on the situation the dog is in and how they are shaped. For instance, if the eyes are narrow, his body is probably leaning forward. That means, he is completely ready to attack and it’s not a joke. But if he is blinking at something in the room, he means he wants to play with you.


Your dog’s tail can tell a lot of different stories from being extremely happy to see you after a while to getting ready to attack in dangerous situations.

In short terms, the higher your dog’s tail is raised, the stronger the point he’s trying to make. However, when his tail is lowered and tucked, he is probably scared and doesn’t know what to do.

It is possible that your dog may have a docked tail. So, you won’t have the chance to interpret what he’s trying to convey that way. Don’t worry, there are other ways.


The ears are also a sign that you should watch. The way your dog’s ear look to you can mean different things. For example, if his ears are pulled back and are flat, that means he is scared and that’s his way of protecting his ears.

However, if they are upright and forward, he is telling that he is curious about what’s happening and wants to know more.

The Mouth

Last but not least, be careful of what your dog’s lips and teeth are trying to say. When your dog is about to attack, you have literally seconds before hell breaks loose. If you see your dog’s s teeth barred with his lips curled, get a good hold of your dog and stop whatever you are doing. If it’s not you, then stop everyone’s that directly annoying your dog.

However, when they seem to be smiling at you, that’s because they are. Profit from that moment of complete relaxation and engage in gentle play time.

You can find out more about each one on WIkiHow


This may or may not be considered part of body language but it definitely is part of understanding what your dog is trying to say to you. Just like words, dog barks have different connotations based on the situation and their tone. They can range from territorial and aggressive barks to happy and playful.

Barks, howls, growls, whines, and whimpers all have different reasons hence different meanings. Therefore, you should learn to listen to your dog and through observation, you may be able to figure out what he’s trying to say.


Communicating with our best friends, the dogs, is relatively easy. All they ask for is simple language and mutual understanding of signs and body language. Therefore, it is up to us, dog owners and lovers, to try and learn their language just as they try to learn ours. Let us know in the comments below if you have any other suggestions on how to communicate with your dog, or share with us your experience talking to your dog.

About the author:

Sam is a proud dog owner and writer. He has his own pet blog DiamondPup, where he publishes articles about dog breeds, training, and more. He aims to help make the world a better, safer place for all dogs by helping dog owner s understand their dogs and their needs