The language of dogs: What do they want to tell us with their gestures?

The language of dogs: What do they want to tell us with their gestures?

You may have wondered on more than one occasion why your dog sometimes sticks out a piece of tongue with its mouth closed, barks for no apparent reason, throws its ears back, or any other sign for no apparent reason. .
The language of dogs is made up of a world of signs, gestures and rituals that, in their day, were absolutely essential for the survival of the species.

However, despite the extraordinary ability of the dog to adapt to the human being, we should not miss out on such a valuable tool for understanding and coexistence.

The language of dogs. Communication channels

Obviously the language of dogs is not based on speech, although sound is part of their communication channels.

The dog, like the wolf, from which it descends, uses three fundamental channels to communicate with its peers:

dog lying down the snow

Visual communication

It is based on body and facial postures and expressions.

Expression of tranquility

The dog is erect with the tail low and loose or relaxed, the head high and the ears straight (neither forward nor backward) and the mouth slightly open.

Alert expression

Our dog remains upright, but with the tail horizontal to the ground, the ears and body slightly forward, the mouth remains closed and the eyes are wide.

This attitude, in addition to showing a state of alertness and observation before something new that appears on the scene. It is also a good indication that our dog is paying due attention during the process of training or learning .

Sudden immobility

It can be indicative of two different situations:

Alert to a possible prey or threat

Intention for a conflictive situation (for example, the anger of the master) to cease.

Expression of domain or challenge

The tail stands up and remains, stiff, but shaky and also stands on end, as does the hair. Pupils dilated, ears stand erect. The nose is wrinkled and the mouth slightly open, it shows its teeth and even the gums.

It is a show of domination. He is strong and confident. It generally occurs in dominant dogs, or when the dog is in what it considers its territory.

dog tugging a rope

Harassed and ready to defend by attacking

Some of the symptoms of the previous expression are manifested with dilated pupils and bristling hair, but in this case, the dog tucks its tail between its legs, throws its ears back, lowers its body slightly and keeps its mouth slightly open. , showing only part of the teeth.

The dog is afraid and feels in danger, but shows its willingness to attack at any moment. Careful!

Submission position

The dog walks low and crouched, with its tail and ears down and its forehead and hair straight, slightly sticking out its tongue as if to lick and casting short glances at the object of its submission, be it another dog or a person.

Full submission / surrender

It manifests with the body on its back, the legs tucked up, exposing the belly and offering its throat, with the ears back, the eyes almost closed, the head tilted and stuck to the ground, avoiding the gaze, the mouth closed and with the corners backward.

It indicates us surrender or submission to another animal or person.

Incitement to gambling / disarmament

The dog crouches down with its front legs, keeping its tail and rear upright, with the tongue sticking out, the ears straight, and the pupils dilated. It is shown when the dog wants to play, or when it wants to show that it is at peace, after a tense encounter. That is why it is also considered a sign of calm or peace.

Joy and social reunion

The dog moves his rear part and tail with ease and excitement, his ears back and his mouth closed giving licks. He can also bend over with his front legs, just like in the playing position, but in this case he keeps them straight, like when yawning.

dog looking at something

Waiting for the food

The dog stands in front and lies down on its hindquarters and forelegs bent, resting its elbows, in a relaxed guard position, but with a fixed gaze, its ears straight and an attitude of “waiting.”

Refuse to look

Dogs are intimidated by being stared directly in the eye, just like humans. For this reason, a dog that shuns the gaze, is telling us “I feel intimidated” or “I come in peace, I am not looking for problems.”
It is also a sign of calm, to prevent other dogs or people from becoming nervous in your presence.


Our dog gives the impression of smiling, pulling back the corners of the lips, showing tongue and teeth. In reality, it is a gesture of friendliness and joy, almost as if he were really smiling, although it may be the case that he is simply heated.

“Wink an eye”

It is a sign that indicates calm and affability. That you are comfortable with the situation.

Tongue out with mouth closed

When we see our dog with its mouth closed and its tongue slightly sticking out or licking its nose, we are before a clear sign of “they are of peace . ” The dog makes this gesture to indicate its peaceful and harmless attitude.

Auditory cues

Obviously we refer to the sounds that the dog makes to communicate.

Short and few barks. Neither very low nor very high

It is a sign of greeting. A kind of “comrade in sight” or “hello, I’m / we’re here.”

Fast and profuse barking

They indicate ‘Intruder in sight’.

Growl followed by bark

Don’t get any closer. I’m dangerous”.
In some cases, they may not be a sign of threat, especially during play.

dog howling


The howl can mean many things. Depression, loneliness, grief and sadness, or simply being an automatic and instinctive response to another howl or similar sound (sirens, music, etc.).
A dog tied up for a long time, without other dogs or humans nearby, ends up feeling marginalized from the group and tends to howl at certain times.

Whimpers and moans

It is typical of puppies, although adult dogs also resort to them. They usually indicate a need for attention, an urgent need (going out to relieve themselves or hunger), pampering or concern for something that bothers them.

Olfactory signals and rituals

It goes without saying that smell is the most developed sense of the dog and that, at birth, they are guided almost completely by it during the first weeks of life.

Sniffing is, for our dog, much more than smelling something. Through smell, a dog receives information about almost everything important that happens in its environment. Possible threats, females in heat, close friends, health, attitude, kinship and status of other dogs, signing in memory, recognition of the terrain, etc.
Smell, in the language of dogs, would be the equivalent of “reading the daily press.”

It is evident that we cannot decipher all that language, but we can understand how dogs implement certain olfactory rituals when communicating, either with other dogs, or with humans.

two dogs smelling each other

Smell each other

Two sniffing dogs that have just met. Not only are they receiving information from each other, but they are also complying with a socialization rite , manifesting a mutual and formal courtesy.
It would be the equivalent of our shaking hands when meeting someone.

Smell the ground and turn your back

The dog also resorts to olfactory ritual to imply that it does not want fuss, or even that it prefers to ignore the newcomer.

For example, if you start to smell the ground, or look away, just when another dog or person invades your space, you are signaling your intention to continue calm and peaceful.

dog peeing

To pee

Another frequent ritual in the language of dogs, consists of the emission of urine, just when another dog invades its space with the intention of socializing (playing for example), but does not want to be disturbed at that moment, in which case, it will mark an area with urine while turning his back on the newcomer. This is a clear sign that this is not the time for games.


It indicates submission to authority and respect. It is usually accompanied by the submission posture described above and licking the air.

Our response to the language of dogs

We must bear in mind that the signals emitted by dogs to other dogs almost always obtain a response in one sense or another, understandable between them, regardless of their breed or place of origin.

If we see our dog sneak up on another dog and make a detour (a sign of respect), the usual thing is for the other to respond, implying that they want the same thing or, otherwise, emitting signals that denote their lack of interest, such as get to smell the ground.

Dogs send us the same signals as if we were their species, and they will respond better to ours, the more they resemble their own, which is none other than the language of dogs.

There is no use shouting for our dog to abandon the intense game of chase that we have started with him, if he does not understand our language. It will be much better to stand up and say his name calmly, adopting an attitude that denotes that the game is over and that each one of us returns to his usual role.

dog looking


All these signs, behavior patterns and gestures are fundamental characteristics to enter the rich canine world and begin to understand the language of dogs.

Divyesh Patel