What is My Dog Saying? How Dogs Communicate

I'm friendly and I want to meet you!

I’m friendly and I want to meet you!

Imagine being in a strange world where you are surrounded by beings that are very different from you. You can’t understand the noises they are making. The facial expressions and body language sometimes seems contradictory and confusing. How would you attempt to communicate with them? How would you try to tell these beings what you wanted or needed? Would you try to touch them and look in their eyes? Dance around in circles to attract their attention? What if you were scared, or cold, or hungry, or angry? How would you communicate that to them?


This is how our companion animals must feel every day until they learn how to show and tell us what is important to them. In Clarice Rutherford’s children’s book, A Dog is a Dog and that’s what makes him so special, the author describes what a dog is saying to us through  body language and vocalization. In today’s society where children may encounter numerous dogs at the park and in the neighborhood, it is important for them to learn early how to read and understand the body language of dogs.

Let's play!

Let’s play!


The basic language of dogs has come from their ancestor, the wolf, and is consistent throughout the world. Although there are some variations in the language due to short tails, drop ears, hair hiding eyes and ears, or shortened muzzles, the majority of signals remain the same. When a dog is approached rapidly, he will turn his head or glance from side to side if he is uncomfortable, signaling the person or dog to slow down. If you are wondering why your dog is suddenly very interested in sniffing a particular spot, look around and you may find that a dog is running up to him, or a jogger going by. Sniffing is a form of calming for either himself or the person or dog that is running by. Lip licking is another way dogs calm themselves, or it can be used as a form of greeting, such as for a good friend.


While everyone is familiar with the happily wagging tail, the relaxed body, head up, tongue out body language of the neighborhood “everybody’s buddy dog,” the warning signs that children and adults should watch for are a stiff tail, erect stance and a curled lip or growl. If the ears are back against the dog’s head, he averts his eyes, and his tail is tucked, he is fearful. Either of these two dogs may bite. One common misunderstanding from children is when they see a dog showing his teeth they think he is smiling and have no comprehension of the danger they are in.

Stay away! I f you don't I might bite you.

Stay away!

I'm scared of you. If you approach too close I might bite defensively.

I’m scared of you. If you approach too close I might bite defensively.









This and more can be learned from A Dog is a Dog and that’s what makes him so special.  Rutherford’s book is an excellent resource for families to learn about dogs and how to meet and handle them. Loaded with illustrations and color photographs, the book also includes interesting tidbits, quick quizzes and games that kids can play with a dog that uses his natural instincts. Learning to understand what a dog is saying can be both fun and challenging. By encouraging your children, as well as yourself, to take the time to learn what dogs are communicating with their body language, you will create a closer and more meaningful relationship with your own dog and with canines in general. Most importantly, this knowledge can prevent a child from approaching the wrong dog, or approaching a dog in a way that might be perceived as threatening, and thus protect them from being bitten. I highly recommend this book to any parent or teacher of middle school age youngsters, whether they are actively involved with dogs or not.