Learning to Understand Dog Communication

As a dog parent, learning to understand dog communication is vital. Dogs make all sorts of different sounds in different situations: growls, barks, whimpers, whines, howls, yips, and yelps. And their body language says a lot, too. It can often be challenging for us to understand precisely what our pet is “telling” us.

Often as a pet photographer, I see behavior in dogs that can be unique to the situation and often hard to read. For instance, sometimes, when a dog appears shy or nervous with e, it’s not because of me being a stranger it is often because I have what could be seen as a giant eyeball on my face staring them down. Sometimes the answer is to let them inspect it (yes, I get a lot of slobber on my lenses), sometimes I have to get back further, and sometimes I have to get the shot with the camera somewhere other than on my face.  I bet you’ve seen something similar with your own dog in unique situations.  

Whether you’re learning yourself or teaching your kids or others who interact with your pet often, here are some basics of pet communication. 

Dogs and cats express themselves differently than humans

It can be frustrating to understand what a dog or cat is telling you! Not all animals give the same signals. Reviewing common behaviors will help you be better prepared to understand what your dog is trying to tell you.

How many of these feelings do you recognize in your own pet?

Relaxed or happy

  • Mouth slightly open, tongue relaxed and hanging to one side.
  • Small body freezes during play.
  • Play bow – this signal invites play and tells others that whatever action comes next is still just play.
  • Turning over, inviting belly rub.
  • Relaxed facial expression.
  • Squinty or blinking eyes.
  • Tail wagging fast, either side to side or in a round motion like a helicopter.
  • Wiggling backside.


  • Head cocked to one side or the other
  • Front paw lifted
  • Mouth closed

Stress or nervousness

  • Yawning can be a sign that a dog is tired, but it also signals stress
  • Lip licking or tongue flicking.
  • Brief body freezing
  • Body freezing
  • ‘Whale Eye’ – the dog turns his head away but keeps looking at the perceived threat, showing the whites of his eyes
  • Head turn
  • Furrowed brow, curved eyebrows

Self-soothing or redirection

  • Sneezing
  • Shaking
  • Sniffing
  • Nose licking
  • Yawning
  • Spinning
  • Pacing

What unique signals does your dog use?

My dog used to kick his bowl across the room if I had missed chow time and he was displeased. He would bark like a madman whenever someone crossed the curb onto the front walk to alert me that someone was getting too close to us.  My dog did this, but not every dog does the same things.

We all need to understand the unique or specific gestures your own pet uses, what they mean, and what we should do (or not) if we see it. 

Educate kids on your own pet’s cues

Everyone in the house should be on the same page when it comes to using verbal cues to ask their pet for certain behaviors. If one person asks for a “down” and another says “no” when your pet jumps up, the animal will undoubtedly be confused.  Sit, stay, down, off, no, come and heel are 7 commands that many trainers consider core commands that anyone, even small kids, can grasp and use. Commands help kids develop a healthy bond with their dog and are imperative for communication. 

Learning to understand dog communication 

Learning to understand dogs communication is an important part of developing a bond with your dog. It allows you to feel confident that your pet is being heard, and it helps you know that your pet feels safe and considered. If you really want to know what your dog is thinking I suggest that you check out my friend Alison with Animal Soul Connection. Alison specializes in communicating with animals and can help you do it too with her free How To Talk With Your Pet Guide. Check out her website at  https://www.animalsoulconnection.com/

Capture your unique bond

Once you are done with all the training and communicating, you can capture the unique bond you have with your pet with pet portraits from Capturing EveryBuddy Pet Photography. If you are a woman in her 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and up now is a great time to capture that bond with my 40 over 40 inspiring pet moms experience.


Dog: https://positively.com/dog-training/understanding-dogs/canine-body-language/

Dog: https://www.clickertraining.com/node/3540

Cat: https://www.tuftandpaw.com/blogs/cat-guides/the-definitive-guide-to-cat-behavior-and-body-language ]

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