Compared with other animals, dogs are really very adept at communicating with humans. After all, they have developed this skill over the thousands of years that humans and dogs have been living together. As a result, dogs can read our emotions astonishingly well. More surprising still: they actually respond to our emotions. It is important to learn how to read what your dog is trying to tell you: it will improve your relationship with your dog and make your interactions a delight for both of you.
Know your cues
Just like humans, dogs have mastered a large number of communication cues. Although they may not be able to communicate verbally, dogs display non-verbal, visual, situational, and contextual cues to help you interpret what they are trying to tell you.
Body language is the most important thing to pay attention to. When a dog is happy, his tail will be up; his tongue will be hanging out; he may be running around or rolling over and trying to get you to play with him. A dog displaying this carefree, at times almost goofy behavior is in a good mood. If he seems confident, you also know that he is feeling happy. The same is true when his ears are up or when he is wagging his tail: he is feeling happy.
Although they cannot speak, dogs can bark and this helps them communicate. When they are barking lightly, they could be expressing joy or that they are having fun. If they are barking loudly in a threatening way they could be trying to warn you about a stranger. They also bark at others as a way of protecting their owners.
Dogs display a number of cues that help us understand what they are trying to communicate. Pay close attention to the hairs on the back of your dog’s neck. When they are standing up, you can be sure that your dog is on high alert. He is ready to fight or to protect you if necessary. These hairs standing up could also be a sign of arousal.
Typically, experts say that when the hair on the back of a dog’s neck is standing up, he is feeling some sort of strong emotion. Your job is to then use the other cues they are showing to figure out what your dog is feeling.
Dogs also know how to smile. This is one of the easiest cues to read. When your dog smiles, you can know that he is happy, or he is excited, or he is content. If your dog is smiling, you’re probably doing everything right at that moment for your dog. It is safe to say a smile means, “Keep doing whatever you’re doing.”
If you spend time talking to your dog in different tones and at different volumes, your dog will start to mimic those behaviors. For example, if you consistently talk in a low voice when you are displeased with him, your dog may also start to growl in a low tone when he is displeased with you. The more time you spend with your dog, the better you will learn to communicate with one another in your own unique, deeply personal way. That will make your time together more meaningful.