How to read your dog’s body language | TeamDogs

How to read your dog’s body language

Do our pooches really understand what we’re saying to them?

Danielle Elton

Posted 52d ago

I’m sure many of us owners could relate to the baby-like voice we have when speaking to our dogs - they’re our fur babies after all.

But while we like to think we can read our pets' behaviour inside out, we don’t speak dog.

As much as we want to think that they can understand what we’re saying to them - when we’re telling them we love them, or when we’re telling them off - do they actually understand us?

According to nutrition and behaviour expert Anna Webb, our dogs use our body language to interpret what we’re saying.

She said: “Dogs are born bi-lingual, that’s to say they know how to ‘speak’ to other dogs using canine body language. They also learn to read what we’re saying not through ‘speech’, but body language.

“Understanding that words mean little to dogs, scientists in Austria proved that dogs understand what pointing means from birth, whereas chimpanzees do not.

“Dogs use their incredible sense of smell to determine our moods, combined with reading minute facial expressions, and clear body language.”

But does that work both ways? How do we know what our dogs are trying to say to us? 

Could communication between us and our dogs be what Anna describes as ‘lost in translation’?

“Learning to interpret what your pooch is saying pays dividends in training, understanding their behaviour, and in rehabilitating dogs, particularly rescues,” said Anna.

“If we take the time to learn their canine body language, we can adapt our behaviours, or the dog’s situation, reducing their anxiety, stress or reactive behaviours.”

So what does our dog’s body language really tell us?

Anna said: “Dogs naturally offer us calming signals, or signs in body language, that they are feeling overwhelmed. 

“Yawning is mis-interpreted to mean the dog is tired, when in fact in most contexts yawning is a sign that your dog is stressed out.

“Excessive panting can mean your dog is overheating, but it also means your dog is feeling really overwhelmed and distressed.”

She also advised: “If your dog turns his head away from you, this too can mean your pooch is too anxious to make eye contact, unable to engage in the specific context, like travelling on public transport, in the pub, at the vets, which means your dog isn’t coping.

“This highlights just how dogs are tuned into us people. It’s the result of thousands of years of domestication.”