If you feel sick, you’ll call a doctor or friend who speaks your language—communicating in a way that both parties understand is essential. Unfortunately, dogs and humans don’t communicate in the same way. If we ignore a dog as they try to communicate, we may miss the signals of something potentially life-threatening. Fortunately, many years of research have helped us get a few steps closer to understanding our pets.
Where we excel in written and spoken word, dogs excel in everything else. Dogs communicate with each other in various ways, combining body language, vocal noise, and scent cues. Each one of these combinations changes depending on who they’re communicating with. You’ll probably notice that they primarily communicate with you through their body language and vocal cues if you pay attention. Each of these cues can be subtle by itself until you learn how to identify them.
The most common cues are barking and tail wagging, indicating obvious things. On the less obvious side, you should pay attention to eye movements and activity in the ears, tail, and overall body position. While exact definitions of what each signal means don’t exist, it isn’t hard to figure it out yourself. Once you notice a change in your dog’s body language, pay attention to what they do next. This can help you decide whether it’s a cause for concern or not. You should pay attention to their vocal cues in a similar way. Depending on the context, howls, yips, and barks can all mean different things. A dog may whine when they want some of your dinner, but they may also complain when they’re hurt.
Pay attention to the combination they communicate, too, since this will help you narrow down a meaning. For example, if a dog crouches and growls, it’s an unmistakable warning. However, combine a crouch with a tail wag, and you get an invitation to play. Likewise, a whine with begging eyes means they want your steak, while a whine with a limp paw may indicate pain.
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