How Do Dogs Communicate?

Canine Communication

Husky Being Trained

How do dogs communicate? As pet owners, we are all guilty of talking to our animals, hoping that one day they will respond to us. Unfortunately, we know that will never happen! But dogs do communicate in a few main ways, and if we understand these cues, we can better understand what our dogs are thinking or needing. I thought this would be a good topic, as it relates to pet health in a different way than just what goes into their body. Overall pet health, like us, includes physical and mental health.

Owning a dog is a very rewarding experience, but it is also a lot of work. Even though I work in the pet industry, I am constantly learning new things; new ways to train, how to better communicate and others. You need to have an open mind and be willing to learn new things. Dogs are very unique breed to breed, but they are also very unique within the SAME breed as well. Take our male Dozer for instance, a Siberian husky. He’s a husky, he should love the cold, right? Wrong! While he does enjoy a good play session in the snow, he will let you know when it’s time to go inside. He will go over to the gate in our fenced yard and sit down. And these subtle cues are what I want to talk about.

How Do Dogs Communicate

Mainly, they communicate through vocalizations and body language. Vocalizations are sounds that your dog makes and have different meanings. However, you need to pay attention not only to the sounds your dog is making, but also its body language. A whine could mean they are happy or they are in pain. If we just hear the whine, we could misinterpret what it means. If they whine and are wagging their tail and their whole body is moving as it wags, they are likely happy! But if they whine and their tail is tucked, they are likely injured or scared.

As I mentioned above, not all dogs are the same and not all dogs can handle the same situations. If you approach a dog wanting to pet it, and it backs away, that’s the dog telling you no. Some dogs are friendly with all dogs and all people, and some aren’t. With all of this extreme cold we have been dealing with you need to be aware of how it affects your dog. Again, even though we have 2 “Snow Dogs”, they can’t deal with -30 temperatures. After a few minutes they hold their paws up and this is our cue it’s time to get inside.

We are big advocates of having your dog leashed while out on walks, unless you are in a designated off-leash area. This is where a lot of problems arise. “Well, we have been doing it this way for years!”, is not a legitimate reason. Our dogs don’t like when strange dogs run up on them when they are leashed, and this happens way too often. They try to back away and when they can’t they vocalize with a slight growl. This doesn’t mean they are aggressive or dangerous, it means they don’t like the situation they have been put in, and are giving the other dog the hint to back off. When you allow your off-leash dog to run free, you are completely disregarding the feelings of other people and pets.

When you allow your off-leash dog to run free, you are completely disregarding the feelings of other people and pets.

A growl can also be a warning. I was walking Dozer and Nova one morning and Dozer kept looking at me, then behind us, back at me then behind us. He then started to growl slightly, and being out in the forest alone, I listened to him! I knew right away this wasn’t normal behaviour and I took action. We essentially got the heck outta there! Who knows what was behind us? And if I didn’t listen to his cues, that day might have gone much differently.

How We Can Communicate With Them

Classical Conditioning Dog Training

Again, we would all love to be able to talk WITH our dogs instead of just TO them. And maybe one day we will be able to. But for now, all we can do is put in some work. Training is the only sure way to tell your dog what you expect. Remember Pavlov’s dog? This is an example of what’s called Classical Conditioning. You issue a command, they perform command, you reward them. Doing this over and over will reinforce in your dog what you expect from them. You can do this to teach them tricks, or to establish boundaries, like stay out of the kitchen.

Because dogs communicate with each other through body language and vocalizations, they also try to decipher what we are feeling in the same way. I deal with depression and anxiety, and my dogs can tell when I’m not having a great day. They achieve this through watching us. Everything from our facial expressions to our vocalizations to our body language gives them cues as to how we are feeling. Dogs have lived alongside humans for a very long time, so it’s no wonder they have become quite adept at reading us.

Learn Constantly

If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘How Do Dogs Communicate?’, great! My recommendation for you is to keep learning. Read articles from reputable sources, professional trainers and canine behaviourists. Just giving your dog lots of treats and love is not enough. It’s a good start! But to get the most out of your time together, and to give your dog the best, most comfortable life you can, you need to train and be able to read your pet. You are your dog’s whole world; you are everything to them. And they give us so much love and happiness, they deserve the effort, right? Start right from when they are puppies, and keep training. It only has to be about 15-20 minutes per day, this reinforces what you expect of them, gets their brain working and makes that human-pet bond even stronger!

This was fairly short and to the point. If you have any questions or need further clarification on these topics, please feel free to email me at and I will be happy to help!

Adam Harrington

View posts by Adam Harrington
Please feel free to comment with any topics you would like me to write about!

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