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40 Ways Your Dog Is Communicating With You


Whether your dog is overly excited, anxious, aggressive, or is new to you, understanding canine communication will help. There are often signals that a dog is escalating. Think of these as rungs on a ladder. The top of the ladder has the more well-known signs of escalation, like growling or biting. As you move down the ladder, there may be more subtle or lesser-known signs that your dog is giving. The earlier (or lower on the ladder) that you notice these calming signals, the better chance you have of doing something quickly to de-escalate the situation.


Many of us learn early on that an aggressive dog communicates by these last resort behaviors:

· Biting

· Snapping

· Growling


Dogs also communicate by trying to escape a threat or increase distance from a threat with:

· Curling up of the lip

· Snarling

· Showing teeth

· Lunging

· Barking

· Walking or running away

· Creeping

· Putting their ears back or dropped


Movement attracts attention. Many animals hold still when sensing a threat or while assessing a situation. Behaviors may include:

· Body stiffening

· Staring

· Lying down

· Picking a leg up

· Standing crouched

· Tail tucked under or raised stiffly, wagging differently

· Cowering

· Closed mouth/holding breath

· Sitting


Before the more drastic behaviors, there can be other more subtle behaviors that your dog uses to communication increased signs of escalation:

· Decreased interest in rewards

· Jumping

· Panting (when no change in temperature or exercise level)

· Change in breathing

· Shaking

· Trembling

· Whale eye/showing whites of eyes/unable to look at directly but unable to look away

· Hackles up/hair on back standing up

· Unable to focus/be still

· Restlessness/searching

· Scanning/hypervigilant

· Salivating

· Unusual water consumption

· Displaced behaviors, like scratching


And even before these signs of escalation, your dog may be communicating calming signals. Calming signals are beginning signs that your dog may be uncomfortable. Your dog may be stressed, fearful, or anxious. Your dog may be trying to calm himself and/or calm the situation by communicating pacifying signals. These can be:

· Walking away, pacing

· Pawing

· Turning body or head away

· Blinking

· Yawning

· Repetitive Licking – nose, lips, and/or feet


Not all dogs follow this order. Some will skip steps, and these signals may be very quick. How your dog reacts depends on many things including pain, previous experience, your dog’s options, number of other distractions, distance to the target, and duration of event. As you start to observe these subtle, earlier signals, you may start to understand the various ways your pet is communicating with you.

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