Everyone has thought it would be nice to know what your dog is thinking at some point or another. While we may never be able to hold a meaningful conversation with our dogs, we actually can communicate with them in an impactful way. Dogs have always had a genetic and universal language that they use to communicate with each other and humans. Most of what dogs are “saying” is through body language, using small movements of the eyes, ears, and mouth. We call these body language cues calming signals. This language is commonly used between dogs (and towards humans) to communicate their peaceful intentions, diffuse tense situations, and generally ease stress in themselves or others.
Knowing what cues to look for will help you better understand how your dog is feeling.
“While we may never be able to hold a meaningful conversation with our dogs, we actually can communicate with them in an impactful way.”
Dogs can use calming signals as young as 7 hours old, but some dogs may seem to have lost their language. No dog ever truly loses their language, but it can be suppressed by repeated instances where the dog was ignored while trying to communicate. Imagine if you were effectively yelling how you were feeling and no one ever listened to you, then totally disregarded your attempts at communication. It might be enough to make you give up on trying to communicate with whoever was ignoring you.
Another reason a dog might “lose” its language is if it was punished for using certain cues, like a lip curl or snarl. Those are actually cues letting other dogs or people know that a dog needs more space and is very uncomfortable with a situation. If a human saw that lip curl and punished the dog for it, that dog might be less inclined to give that warning cue next time since it was ignored and punished the time before. In the rest of this article, I will give you 5 commonly missed cues your dog sends you that you miss, and how you can also communicate with your own dog in their language!
“Dogs are always communicating; are you listening?”
There are many more calming signals dogs use. I have merely gone over a handful and given you a few examples of the commonly missed and misinterpreted signals. Hopefully, I have equipped you with a better understanding of dog language and a desire in yourself to look for these signals from your own dog and others.
You can easily try all of the signals I have gone over with your own dogs, or even unfamiliar dogs. Try to send calming signals to a new dog and see if they return your signals or even come over to say hello! During my time as a dog walker and pet sitter, I used all of these signals and more when meeting new dogs, and their owners were commonly surprised at how quickly their shy or nervous dogs warmed up to me! The emergency situation I described earlier just goes to show how effective calming signals are if only we take the time to learn this simple language and understand how to use it.
Dogs are always communicating; are you listening?
Works Cited: Rugaas, Turid. On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. Dogwise Publishing, 1997.