The Language of Dogs

I think it's funny that people measure an animal's intelligence by its ability to be trained to understand human speech. But do we ever apply that same logic in the reverse? How often do we try to understand our animals? How many humans have tried to learn exactly what their dogs are saying with their barking and body language? It turns out, quite a few, but the dogs may be proving smarter than we are when it comes to interpreting and sometimes, even imitating inter-species language.

Is That Bark Really Just Noise?

Absolutely not! Barking is a language in and of itself. You'll notice that your puppy makes very different sounds, and when combined with body language, these sounds are very expressive. In fact, while you are trying to teach your dog to sit up, fetch and heel, he or she is very likely trying to teach you how to "speak." The least we can do while training our animals is let them return the favor and train us too.

Are They Really Trying to Teach Us?

Some dogs have gone so far as to attempt to imitate human language. This is in no way a mindless imitation, even though it is the result of training and positive reinforcement. This is exactly how humans learn to speak after all. But it takes so much more effort for a puppy to learn to make human sounds, and it is a bona fide attempt to communicate with the humans they love. In the midst of all that earnest eye contact and concentration, if we really learn to pick up on their body language and vocal inflection, any one of us can learn to be a dog whisperer. It just takes time. And practice. Lots of practice.

Body Language Cues

Body language is instinctual. It is inbred in all mammals, including humans. There's no way to detail the significance of body language in such a short article. Suffice it to say that it's important. So, here's a few cues that you can pick up on with your puppy to gauge their emotional state.

  • I'm alert--Ears up, tail straight back, limbs straight and eyes forward. 
  • I have anxiety--Ears down, tail down, haunches and front legs slightly bent as if to bolt. 
  • I'm stressed--Wide mouthed yawn. (Yes, it is counter-intuitive for humans, thus the language barrier.) 
  • I feel threatened--Tail straight out or slightly down, all legs ready to pounce, ears laid back straight out, barking. 
  • I'm relaxed--No tension in ears, slow blink with the eyes, relaxed tail. 

There's more to it, but this is a good start. You likely already know many of the other more obvious signs like "I want to play," and "I love you." But the above examples explain why some body language is counter-intuitive to humans.

Verbal Expression

Canine verbal expressions don't just consist of barks and growls. They also include:

  • Howls--I'm lonely! Come play with me! 
  • Low pitched moaning whines--I'm in pleasure. 
  • Screaming yelps--I'm in anguish. 
  • Sigh with eyes closed--I'm pleased and content. 
  • Sigh with eyes open--I'm displeased. 
  • Panting--I'm excited or stressed. 
  • Whimpers--Short low pitched whimpers are unmistakable. 

They are a heart-wrenching sound that represents pain or fear. Just like with humans, these communications vary between canines. Some breeds even have their own "accent" or breed specific expressions, so to speak. Morkies, for instance, bark more than they howl. You can learn more about Morkies and their outgoing personalities at Ultimately though, no one guide could possibly tell you what your dog is saying more than you yourself can. All you have to do is what comes natural--focus, listen and love.