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Chatting with Fido: An Analysis of Dog-Human Interaction

Would you like to be able to read your dog’s body language? Would you like to communicate with your dog more effectively and know all the secrets behind his canine actions? If so, this dog body-language review is for you!

So many times, we have entire “conversations” with our dogs. We talk on and on, thinking, of course, that our dog understands every word we say. In fact, there is so much communication our dog can understand. What’s not to love about our dog’s greeting dance when we come through the door at the end of the day?

Here is a scenario between a dog named Sparky and you, the pet parent. This is followed by a nonverbal, bark-by-bark, wag-by-wag analysis of what you and Sparky are truly communicating to each other.

  • You come through the door and shout “Sparky, I’m home!" and hear him respond with two sharp, short, high-pitch barks.

  • Sparky comes running to you. His head is held high, his mouth is open and his tongue is hanging out.

  • You bend down and say "I missed you so much!” and begin to pet him.

  • Sparky’s tail is wagging. His tail is down and relaxed and swinging broadly, but his hips don’t move!

  • “I missed you Sparky! Did you miss me?” you say, as you scruff and pet Sparky.

  • Sparky brings his nose up to your face and sniffs you. He gives you a muzzle-nuzzle and licks your face.

What have you and your dog said in your greeting dance? What do you think you and Sparky were saying? Here is an interpretation of the non-verbal dog and pet parent interaction.

  • You come through the door and shout “Sparky, I’m home!" and hear him respond with two sharp, short, high-pitch barks.

These are good barks, saying, “Hello, I see you!” Two nice, short barks is good; one high bark means, “You surprised me!” (If it was one low bark it would mean “back off.” Or, low barks with pauses: “This may be an intruder; I am sending out a warning.”

  • Sparky comes running to you. His head is held high, his mouth is open and his tongue is hanging out.

A head held high shows confidence, but combined with an open, relaxed mouth with the tongue out it says, “I feel good. I am relaxed and happy to see you.” I didn’t mention Sparky’s ears in the review. They may be up and rotated forward in expectation, then relaxed once he sees you.

  • You bend down and say "I missed you so much!” and begin to pet him.

It would be best if you actually crouched down on his level and let him come to you, as bending down, moving forward and reaching out can be seen as aggressive and/or scary for some dogs. However, Sparky knows you are friendly as he responds to you nicely.

  • Sparky’s tail is wagging. His tail is down and relaxed and swinging broadly, but his hips don’t move! (Wags vary by breed and dog personality. You need to check your dog for his “happy norm” by waving a treat at him and seeing what his tail does.)

Many dogs have a relaxed, broadly swinging tail to show happiness. Some dogs have an “excited happy” wag that differs from their relaxed or “contented happy” tail. They may make fast, little circle wags with their tail. Laboratory research suggests that positive feelings make your dog’s tail wag more to the right and that negative feelings make it wag more toward the left. If Sparky’s hips go down he is showing he respects you. Low hips with a tail wag are a more submissive wag. That’s not bad; your dog is just letting you know that you are in charge. Dogs with docked tails may swing their hips to communicate happiness or excitement.

  • “I missed you Sparky! Did you miss me?” you say, as you scruff and pet Sparky.

You’re using his name in a positive emotional setting of greeting, which makes him feel recognized and to want to come when his name is called.

  • Sparky brings his nose up to your face and sniffs you. He gives you a muzzle-nudge and licks your face.

Dogs “see” with their noses. They greet and give a handshake by sniffing. And the muzzle-nudge can be an affectionate doggy hug. (It can also mean, “I need to go outside – now!”) Muzzle-nudges and face licking are behaviors that can be affection or a desire to be fed.

When it’s not you at the door

The door of your house is the mouth of the cave. Your dog might feel the need to defend the house or to be Chief Greeter and attack guests. Here are tips for training dogs not to jump on guests or dogs that bark too much when guests come through the door.

If you have a new puppy or you are training your dog not to jump, wait to fully acknowledge and pet him until you are a few feet from the door at your “greeting station.” If he is a jumper – and you can stand not loving on him – wait until he sits to pet him. Reward him for what you consider good behavior and ignore him if he is doing something you consider wrong. When your dog behaves, immediately give him rewards, be it praise, treats, scruffs or a good belly rub. For some, being good means your dog stays down and doesn’t bark in a way that might scare guests.

When I say my dog’s name and my voice lovingly greets him once I enter the house, I wait until he sits to touch him. However, as soon as his little rear hits the floor, he gets “Good boy!” praising. Then I come down to his level and he gets lots of scruffs and pets; I get a sniff and muzzle-nudges.

Goodness, I love the greeting dance.

Some dog language facts

Nearly 90 percent of pet parents surveyed believe their dog gives them a warmer greeting than does their closest human companion.

One-third of pet parents believe they’ve had an entire conversation with their dog without saying a word.

More than half of pet parents surveyed read their dog’s body language and facial expressions to tell how their dog is feeling.

Research by Pup-Peroni® shows that we have a special bond with our dogs and that we share with our dogs.

We have a special way of communicating with our dog through wags, not words.

Calm-happy dogs have a smooth, unfurrowed forehead; a smooth muzzle; and relaxed lips that are smiling. Excited-happy dogs have an open mouth with a tongue out and ears that are up and forward. Floppy, relaxed ears indicate a contented-happy dog.