Different Ways Dogs Communicate With You

By Jake Schroeder
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Few things in life are more universally loved than dogs. However, as any dog owner can attest, try as we might, communicating with our furry friends isn't always the easiest. While your special bond lets you understand each other to a certain degree, sometimes you wish you could just talk to one another. The goods news is that dogs have their own special ways of communicating with us. Understanding them can even improve your relationship with your furry friend.

Creating a Feather Bed From Furniture

If you've ever come home and realized that your dog has taken it upon himself to rip up the couch cushions or other items like toilet paper rolls, you're certainly not alone. It's a pet owner's worst nightmare but one of the most common things to happen.

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However, your furry friend likely wasn't trying to be a rascal during the furniture-ransacking adventure. He was probably trying to tell you how anxious he gets when you're not around. Sometimes this behavior can fade away with age. If it persists, though, it's best to try to exercise your dog before you leave the house.

Howling Like a Wolf

When your dog breaks out into a howl, it's clear that he’s trying to communicate something. Unlike other forms of communication, this is one way dogs can express themselves verbally. But what is it exactly? It could mean a few different things.

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One reason is that they’re trying to make contact with other dogs or announce their presence. For example, if they hear a dog in the distance, they might begin howling. Another reason is that they can hear a high-pitched noise, such as an ambulance siren. Their howling could be indicative of their annoyance and their discomfort.

Excessive Licking

Most of us assume when a dog comes up to us and begins licking, it's their way of giving "kisses." Although this isn’t entirely accurate, it is a form of communicating affection. Dogs lick humans to show submissiveness, which is good.

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However, it's important to note that if you notice your dog excessively licking himself, it might be a sign of stress, anxiety or pain. For example, if your dog suddenly develops a habit of licking his paws, it might mean something is bothering him. It's best to keep an eye on it to see if it persists.


Dragging Their Bottoms Across the Ground

Have you ever noticed your dog dragging his behind across the floor? At first, this can be alarming because you worry about what it might do to the cleanliness of your carpets. In some cases, it can also be slightly entertaining due to the sheer silliness of how it looks.

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However, when dogs scoot their butts across the floor, it could mean that their behinds are a bit dirty and, in turn, irritating. This is an effort to get clean. Unfortunately, it could also mean a more serious problem, such as worms or an issue with their anal glands.

Tilting Their Heads

You'd be hard-pressed to come across someone who doesn’t find a dog's head tilts adorable. But dogs aren't trying to win any cuteness points when they do this (even if that is a byproduct). So why do they do it?

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When dogs tilt their heads, it usually means that they’re trying to hear something better. If something piques their interest, tilting their heads is a way of turning their ears upward to hone in on what the noise is and where it’s coming from. Basically, this is their way of communicating that they’re curious about something.

Chasing Their Tails

Second perhaps only to head tilting, tail chasing is one of the most adorable and entertaining things a dog can do. While we may find humor in this fool's errand the dog is on, dogs (most often puppies) do this when they've yet to learn that their sought-after prize is attached to them.

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However, that's not always the case. Sometimes dogs do this because they’re simply bored. Other times, it may look like they're being playful when really they’re trying to get to an itch or something is irritating an anal gland.


Grubbing on Grass

You're walking your dog or watching him play outside when you notice him snacking on some grass. No, your beloved canine isn’t switching to a plant-based diet. Rest assured that this is normal dog behavior and occasionally leads to vomiting. It may also indicate a lack of nutrients in your pet’s food.

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It could also mean he’s suffering from an upset stomach and attempting to improve his digestion. Try giving him some water. If the problem persists, you might want to consult your veterinarian. A more severe reason may be that your dog is suffering from intestinal worms.

Digging Deep

You buy your dog bundles of chewy and squeaky toys, yet when you go outside, you notice that he opts to dig a hole in your freshly landscaped lawn. Again, this doesn't mean he's trying to get on your bad side.

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A possible reason for the digging is that it's been bred into his specific breed type. Some dogs may be trying to hide their food or toys. Digging is also common among bored dogs. It gives them physical exercise while also giving them a task to focus on. To prevent this, try taking your dog on more walks or playing fetch to tire him out.

Following You Around the House

They say dogs are man's best friend. But if that’s true, dogs can be extremely clingy friends at times. Although a dog following your every step can be annoying, it's also a behavior many homeowners find cute and endearing. But what does it mean?

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Turns out this form of communication is pretty straightforward. If your dog is following your every move, it's only because he enjoys being around you, and his natural instinct is to stay with his family. It's a way for him to express companionship. In some cases, it may mean that your dog is insecure or anxious.


Comforting You When You're Upset

One of the most heartwarming dog behaviors you can experience as a pet owner is when your dog seems to want to comfort you when something is wrong. While you may chalk it up to coincidence, it's usually not.

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Dogs have the ability to sense when something is wrong. Plus, because they know their owners very well, they're able to read our body language. If you're feeling sad, your dog really might come to comfort you. If he doesn’t, don't be offended. His distance may mean he’s upset — so much so that he’s unable or doesn't know how to help.

Giving You the Sad, Puppy-Dog Eyes

People, particularly children, are known for giving "puppy dog eyes" when they’re pleading for or seeking something. However, when your dog does it, it doesn't necessarily mean that he has the same end goal.

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When your dog makes these eyes at you, it could be him communicating his love for you. It's a form of establishing trust. In fact, some research suggests that canines evolved a facial muscle that lets them raise the spot between their eyebrows as a way of improving their communication with human beings.

Sticking Their Heads Out Car Windows

If you've ever taken your dog on a car ride, you've probably witnessed him trying to stick his head out the window. Maybe you let him, or maybe you didn’t — some owners can get nervous about this, which is understandable.

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But sticking his head out the car window is rarely cause for concern. It's merely a way of surveying his surroundings. Also, while the wind may feel nice on his face, it's not the speed the pup is enjoying but more likely the range of scents. Dogs have high sense receptors, and the harder the wind passes, the more scents they're able to detect.


Staring Directly at You

Dog staring can be a tricky subject because it can mean many things based on specific circumstances and factors. For example, in some scenarios, dogs staring at humans and other dogs can be a form of intimidation.

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However, if a dog is comfortable with you, and you find him harmlessly and gently staring at you, it could just mean he’s devoted to you and relaxed enough to make direct eye contact. He might also be asking you for something. For example, if he knows it's getting close to dinner, he might be giving you a nudge with his eyeballs.

Lounging With Their Legs in the Air

When a dog falls asleep while lying on his back and has his paws and limbs sticking up, it's sometimes known as the "dead bug" position. If your dog does this a lot, it's a good sign. This means he's comfortable around you.

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Leaving the underside of his body facing up is a sign of submissiveness and vulnerability. Dogs that sleep like this communicate a laid-back, confident attitude that demonstrates how comfortable and secure they feel — around you and in their surroundings. Also, because stomach fur is thinner, when dogs sleep stomach-up, it might mean they're trying to cool down.

Curling Up Like a Fox

If dogs that lie on their backs are confident and secure, is a canine that curls up like a fox to sleep insecure and anxious? Not necessarily. While it could mean he’s a bit apprehensive, it's usually a way of keeping warm.

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If your dog doesn't typically curl up in a ball, you might think something is wrong. But it might just mean he’s feeling a tad chilly at the moment. Tucking his paws underneath himself and curling in is a way of warming up, just as humans might do when they’re feeling cold.


Talking With Their Tails

It's not news that one way dogs communicate is by using their tails. However, most of us assume that when a dog's tail is wagging at all, it means he’s happy and excited. Unfortunately, this isn't necessarily the case. Different tail movements can mean different things.

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If your dog's tail is moving at a slower pace, he’s communicating hesitation. A tall, rigid tail means he’s on edge, and a tucked tail usually means he's scared. However, if he's wagging it back and forth so aggressively that it's moving the rest of his body, then he's just happy to see you!

Repetitive Sneezing or Yawning

If your furry friend starts sneezing over and over, you might assume he's coming down with a bit of a cold. But as time goes on you notice that this seems to be a habit. Ditto for yawning. Even with plenty of sleep and no illness to speak of, these behaviors persist. So what gives?

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Believe it or not, these can actually be methods of communication. Unnecessary yawning and sneezing can signify discomfort or possible stress. Next time your pet is around someone new or in a different place, see if he lets out a few yawns or sneezes. You can safely chalk it up to nervousness.

Raising One of Their Paws

Remember in school when you had to raise your hand if you wanted to ask the teacher something? You can liken this to your dog raising one of his paws. In all seriousness, one of the ways dogs communicate that they need (or, more likely, want) something is by lifting one paw.

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If you're sitting on the couch and your dog comes up and puts one paw on your leg, it probably means he wants something. It could be that he wants to play — unless you're in the middle of eating. Then you probably already know what he wants.


Bringing Random “Presents”

When your dog drops a toy at your feet, it's a clear indicator that he’s ready to play, right? But what about when he brings you other random things, like garbage, a stick from the yard or (in some unfortunate and mildly disturbing cases) a dead bird or rodent?

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This can definitely be your dog trying to communicate that he thinks it's playtime. However, sometimes bringing you a favorite toy or something he dug up from the yard can kind of be like the human version of gift-giving. It's one of the ways dogs show affection.

Resting or Leaning Their Bodies on People

A dog relaxing onto your leg or resting against you can sometimes be a bit irritating — especially if you're in the middle of trying to do something. However, you'll likely feel a lot less annoyed next time this happens when you learn what it really means.

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When a dog leans his body against yours, it usually means that he’s trying to snuggle and cuddle with you. Sure, that may be obvious. But it becomes a lot cuter when you realize that it's essentially his way of hugging you because he isn't able to physically do that on his own.

Sniffing You (or Strangers)

As mentioned, dogs have a heightened sense of smell. And it makes sense that they sniff strangers and other dogs as a way of getting to know them. But what makes dogs choose the places they want to sniff?

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It turns out that this mostly boils down to the apocrine glands we have in our bodies. These highly concentrated glands are where dogs go to look for more information about who we are. Scent is the strongest sense for dogs, so even if they physically see you after you return, they may need to sniff you before their tails start wagging.


Sleeping Back to Back

If you have more than one dog, you may have noticed them sleeping back to back. If you allow your single dog to sleep with you, you may also notice that his preferred sleeping position is with his back against yours. At first, this may be something you take offense to.

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Your dog sleeping in a position that faces away from you isn't an insult or a sign that he doesn't want to cuddle. It's usually the opposite! Sleeping back to back is something a dog only does when he’s with his "pack" and feels entirely comfortable with his surroundings.

Freaking Out When You Walk Through the Door

It's nice to know you're missed when you leave the house for an extended period. But whether you were gone all day at work or were running a 10-minute errand, it doesn't matter to your dog: He still flips out the second you walk through the door as if he hasn't seen you in years.

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The more hyper your dog gets when you walk through the door, the more excitement he has about seeing you. Obviously, this is a good thing. It's his way of communicating appreciation for you and indicating how much he missed you when you were gone.

Crashing on Your Bed While You're Away

Not all dog owners let their dogs sleep in or on their beds. Others are a bit more lenient. Either way, you might occasionally come home to find your dog lounging on your bed, even if he could have chosen the couch or his own dog bed. Why is this?

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Sure, your mattress is probably a bit more comfortable than the couch or the dog bed. But it might go deeper than that. Your bed has your scent all over it, so when you're not home, your bed is the closest your dog can get to feeling like he’s with you.


Squinting Their Eyes

Human beings squint their eyes for a number of reasons. They might be confused and trying to figure something out. Or they might be suspicious. They also might start squinting when they're tired. So what does it mean when our dogs do it?

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Not quite the same thing, actually, When dogs squint at us, they're not being judgmental or critical. Not entirely anyway. It’s one of their methods of asking for attention. Try spending some quality time with your pup or giving him some cuddles for a few minutes and see if the awkward eye behavior subsides.

Eating Feces

Okay, this isn't the most pleasant one. But it's something a lot of dog owners deal with. If you've found your dog munching on some bathroom droppings, at least know that you're not alone. But what does it mean? Is your dog just being strange?

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Doing this isn’t your dog’s way of being gross — at least he’s not trying to be. In fact, he’s trying to be the opposite. Consuming feces, whether it's his or another dog's, is one way that your dog tries to "clean" his environment or territory. He doesn't want the area where he eats to be dirty.

Hanging Their Tongues Out

When you spend a lot of time running around with your dog, you might notice him starting to pant with his tongue hanging out. This can be a clear indicator that he's saying he's thirsty or he might be simply out of breath.

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However, a dog that’s just hanging around the house with his tongue out is communicating to you that he’s feeling happy and relaxed. This is usually something that happens after you give him a lot of attention. It's a sign that he’s pleased with you and that he enjoys the current situation.


Putting Their Ears Back and Growling

Most of us already know what this means. But if you're a new dog owner, or you encounter a dog and don't have one of your own, it serves as a helpful reminder. When dogs show their teeth and growl, especially when their ears are back, this is a sign of aggression.

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Sometimes it can be confusing because some dogs lightly use their teeth or let out growl-ish noises when they're playing. But it's important to read your situation to see what the dog is communicating. If the dog has his ears back with his fur standing and a rigid tail, he’s unhappy and in a protective mode.

Waiting for the Go-Ahead

Have you ever come home to find your dog in his crate? You know he's excited to see you, and the second you walk to the crate he'll get up and start wagging his tail furiously. At first, he sits there, perhaps with his ears back, and patiently waits for you to approach.

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This and similar situations are signs that he’s waiting for your approval. This is a great thing. If dogs stare at you, or even glance at you, before they’re about to do something, it means that they understand you're the Alpha and respect you.

Rolling Over

Some dog owners teach their dogs to roll over. This can be fun and playful. However, even when dogs aren't trained for this command, many still do it. You may find them rolling onto their backs as you approach them.

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While this does communicate submissiveness, it could also mean they're asking for belly scratches. This is most common when your dog feels comfortable around you and his environment, as lying on his back also puts him in a vulnerable position. On the other hand, if he’s sleeping and rolls onto his back, he’s probably trying to cool down.