Whether you're a first-time dog owner or a longtime trainer like Cesar Millan, there's always something new you can learn to help you better understand your pets. In this article, we break down the most common doggie behaviors and what they really mean for you to figure out exactly what your dog might be trying to tell you! So grab your furry friend and give this a look; we're sure it's going to make a lot of tails wag!
The most common way to tell that a dog feels threatened, and may lash out to protect itself, is if the dog is growling. By baring their teeth, snarling and growling at you, a dog is trying to show you how dangerous they are in order to protect themselves. They will also usually pull their ears back at this point into a more defensive position. So, if a dog is responding to you like this, make sure to give them some space.
Some dogs will growl while playing, which is perfectly normal! But, make sure you check with a dog's owner about their normal behaviors before assuming a dog acting like this wants to roll around.
While some breeds are more known for it than others (Huskies and Hounds come to mind), howling is the trait our dogs exhibit that most reminds us of the ancestral wolves they were descended from. Scientists aren't exactly sure what howling connotes. However, there are a few strong hypotheses for why they do it. Some researchers believe dogs do it to communicate, while others think they do it to express pleasure or displeasure at other noises in the environment.
In order for a dog to start howling, there usually needs to be a trigger. This is usually another loud noise, something like a train whistle or a high-pitched singer in a song.
If you see a dog sleeping with their legs out to the side, or curled up underneath them, you might think they look adorable. But, in this position, a dog can't actually reach REM sleep. This is because this position stops them from fully relaxing their muscles, so it's much harder for them to fall into a deep sleep. A dog sleeping like this is therefore probably just taking a cat nap or something like that.
If you have a gentle, shy dog who is scared of a lot of different things, this will probably be the position you find them sleeping in more often than not.
Puppy dog eyes are a common behavior to see from dogs, so much so that kids sometimes will try to replicate it! Most people associate this behavior with sadness, which is why they'll reward their pets with a treat if they see this. It's an attempt to cheer the pet up. However, if your dog is giving you puppy dog eyes, all he's saying is that he loves you and he trusts you.
It's not the worst thing in the world to reward your dog with a treat in this situation. But, don't make it a habit, because then your dog will start making those eyes every time they get hungry.
A lot of the time, dogs will look up at their owners before running off to chase a ball, or going up to greet a friend. If they do this, it's because they recognize that you're the one in charge. So, they don't want to upset you by doing something that you're not going to like. That's why they'll look at you for approval, and then go off and enjoy themselves after they get your blessing.
If your dog does this fairly regularly, it's a great sign that you guys have an incredible relationship. It shows that your dog trusts you enough to ask for something when they want instead of just taking it.
You might see this behavior on a really sassy dog that wants to prove a point. When a dog squints at you, or blinks repeatedly (when they're not looking into the sun that is), it means that they're feeling a little attention-starved. When your dog does this it means they want you to play with them or watch what they're doing. So, you better drop what you're doing and give Fido a little attention.
You might see your dog flashing these squinty eyes if you've been out at work all day and then are returning home way too late.
A dog that is sleeping on their back with their legs in the air is probably very comfortable. However, if a dog is sleeping on their back and their legs are crossed over their bodies, there's a chance the dog is overheating. This is a position they get in to get air on their bellies and cool down, but if it's a very hot day and you see a dog lying like this you're going to want to get them water ASAP.
Just because dogs have a higher heat tolerance than humans, it doesn't mean it's any less dangerous for them. So, make sure not to leave your dogs in a hot car, or let them play for too long outside during the summer.
Similar to the behavior dogs exhibit when they squint, if a dog stares at you it means that they also want attention. Just like how humans have different love languages and ways of communicating their desires, so do dogs. So, it will immensely help your relationship with your pet if you study the way they react to different triggers and the way they ask you for things when they need them.
We understand how it can be creepy for an animal to just be staring at you all the time, too. But, your dog is just telling you that they love you, so try to cut them a little bit of slack.
If you ever see a dog panting, and it almost looks like they're smiling, chances are they actually are! Dogs know how to smile, and when they're enjoying themselves and getting the attention they deserve they'll do just that. A lot of the time this looks like a dog with its tongue hanging out of its mouth, who is observing you closely and waiting for your cues. So, just keep playing with them and letting them enjoy!
Dogs, like kids, sometimes don't know when to stop. So, if your dog is having a lot of fun, but you're worried they might get overtired, be sure to pull them aside and make them take a break to drink some water.
A dog that stares at you, as we discussed, wants some of your attention. But, if a dog is really looking at you intently, with love in its eyes, then they're waiting for you to tell them what to do. This is a sign of unfettered affection, and your dog telling you that they'll follow whatever you tell them. It's a really sweet way that our dogs can show us some unconditional love.
This behavior is also largely situational. If something stressful is going on, your dog might look at you to see if they should be worried. If you're just relaxing, they might look at you to ask if it would be alright for them to go to sleep.
The position you see the dog sitting in in that picture is one of the most dangerous positions you can find a dog in. This pose means that the dog is feeling afraid, and is getting ready to pounce. By getting low down and showing their teeth, a dog is not only trying to scare away whatever is threatening them, but they're also protecting their internal organs, and preparing to launch an attack should the need arise.
Never approach a dog that is in a lying position and growling like this one. If you need to, stay a safe distance away and wait for the dog to approach you once they've calmed down.
If you see a dog standing with their mouth open, and its ears on alert, but its tail is down and relaxed, this is a great, great sign. It means that a dog is curious, and not feeling threatened in any way. It's a very neutral emotion where the dog is ready to analyze the world around them and figure out what's going on. So, if you're going to approach a strange dog, try to do it when they're in this position.
If a stray dog is in this kind of mood, it will probably approach you. Then, you can get comfortable, and start trying to figure out where the dog's owners are.
Dogs have a very keen sense of smell, as well as an ability to detect danger where human beings can't. But, if there's no danger present, and the environment is just a little strange for your dog, chances are they'll respond like this. Their ears will be forward, so that they can listen better to their environment. And, their tail will be pointed straight back, letting you know that they're curious, and enjoying the adventure.
This is great body language to look for while your dog is playing with other dogs, or exploring a new park. You want them to be curious, but also safe and still aware of any danger.
It would've made for a great American Idol episode if someone had made a rendition of that famous song about "Tongues on the ground." But, since they didn't, our dogs are just going to have to pick up the slack. If you notice that your dog is sitting there with their tongue sticking out of their mouth, chances are they're really enjoying themselves. Panting like that is a sign that a dog is hot, but also enjoying themselves.
We always say a panting dog is a happy dog. And, even if that's not true, a panting dog will later turn into a tired dog, which will turn into a sleeping dog, and then everybody wins anyway.
As is the case for most dogs, their bark is going to be worse than their bite. But, if you're listening to that bark and you hear an inflection in the dog's voice at the end, chances are they're in a pretty playful mood! This is called a rising bark, and dogs use it when they want to play, or are having a good time. If you hear two dogs barking at each other they'll probably be using these types of noises!
Humans can also imitate this rising bark to excite some dogs and launch them into play mode! But, if you want your pooch to calm down, make sure to teach them to right commands for when to roll it back.
If your dog sleeps like a dead bug (this is also called the crazy legs position), it probably means that they're having some wonderful dreams, and are as comfortable as could be. When a dog is feeling vulnerable, they protect their stomachs. So, a dog sleeping like this is letting everyone around them know that they've got nothing to worry about. They feel completely safe in their environment, and they're feeling very laid back.
We've tried sleeping like this before, but for some reason, it's not as comfortable as the dogs make it look. We just prefer sleeping with our legs on the ground, we guess.
We've seen dogs greet each other by sniffing each other's butts before. That's normal, and a common practice for dogs. But, have you ever seen them do it to a person? It happens pretty often! This behavior is called scanning and helps dogs acquaint themselves with one another, or one of us, by associating the smell with the specific person carrying it. Just don't start trying this on your human friends, we have a feeling they might not like it so much.
With this in mind, this is also why it helps to reach out a closed hand to a new dog. They will be able to smell you and get more comfortable before coming closer.
This is how most human beings sleep, so it's no surprise that this is how most dogs sleep as well. A dog on their side is exposed, and a bit vulnerable, but they're also able to get up into attack mode very quickly. So, it's not a position that connotes danger or anything like that. If you see a dog napping on their side, chances are they just really needed to get some sleep.
Some dogs have a habit of running in their dreams while they're sleeping in this position. So, keep an eye on your pooch if they fall asleep like this and see if you notice anything.
As big a change as it might be for you to introduce a new animal to your house, it is just as big a change for that animal as well. So, you're going to want to make sure the environment is already ready to receive this pet. You also are going to want to keep an eye on the animal over the span of their first week to make sure that they're settling in alright and getting comfortable.
If you see your new puppy sleeping in this position (which we discussed up above), then it means they're starting to get comfortable in their new home, and you're doing a great job!
If you as a human being go on a run on a hot day, chances are you're going to start sweating out of pores you didn't even know existed. However, dogs don't have this opportunity. They do not secrete sweat from their skin like human beings do. Likewise, they also do not sweat from their tongues as some people suggested. In actuality, when a dog sweats, most of it is secreted through the dog's paws!
This is one of the reasons that dogs love kiddie pools so much, especially during the summer. It allows them to submerge one of the hottest parts of their body, and in turn cool down everything else.
This is how you'll see puppies sleeping most of the time. It happens a lot when a dog is playing, lies down for a second to rest, and just crashes. As we said, you'll see puppies sleeping like this a lot. It's an adorable position that shows you a dog was truly tired before falling asleep, and as they say, you might as well let that sleeping dog lie. Wouldn't want to wake Superman up if you're not ready for playtime.
A lot of people sleep like this too, and it's easy to see why. After a long day, there are few better feelings than just letting go and collapsing onto your face for some Zs.
If a dog is cold, chances are they're going to sleep in a position that conserves as much heat as possible. So, most of the time, they will curl up in a ball, tuck their sensitive little paws against their warm belly, and wrap their tail around themselves like a blanket. Cold weather breeds like Siberian Huskies prefer to sleep like this a lot of the time. We also call this the fox position because this is exactly how foxes sleep!
Another benefit of this sleeping position for dogs is that it protects their internal organs. Lets remember that dogs are descended from wolves, and still have a lot of those wild tendencies, even if we don't always notice them.
Dogs won't just sleep anywhere, and they won't fall asleep around just anyone. It's important that all animals feel safe in their environments, otherwise, they won't be able to get comfortable. For example, you probably wouldn't go and sleep cuddled up with a complete stranger, right? The same goes for dogs. If they're going to fall asleep with or against somebody, it'll probably be a member of that dog's pack, and someone they completely trust.
If you have a dog that naps all the time, but he won't sleep when someone new is in the house, this is exactly the reason. Dogs are not going to let their guards down if people are there who they're not comfortable with.
Nonverbal communication is super important when it comes to being a pet owner. Sure, we've seen people messing around with those new peg boards that let dogs talk, but the classical way to raise your pets is to read their behaviors and take care of business accordingly. Thankfully, if your dog is flashing you a face like this, it means you've already got everything all set. This is a happy, content face that shows that your pet is excited to be around you.
All dogs are different, so some will wag their tails when happy, some will smile, and other still will spin in circles!
They always say that no two people are alike, but with so many of us on the planet, there's got to be a few who are pretty similar. That being said, everyone's fingerprints are still always going to be different. And, just like people with their fingerprints, every dog's noseprint is going to be different! With this, plus the fact that dogs can tell each other apart by their scents, the nose might be a dog's most important organ!
This is such a cute picture showing off the unique pattern on this chocolate labrador's nose. He looks a little grumpy about having his picture taken though.
Just like people vary so differently from one to another, from different shaped noses and ears to different heights and weights, dogs are the same way. Even if you take two dogs out of the same litter, they're probably going to be just as wildly different from one another as two human siblings would be. Also, dogs as a breed have a few interesting features that differ from humans that you might never have noticed.
For example, did you know that dogs have Henry's pockets in their ears? They also have a third eyelid (like snakes) that moves from side to side occasionally.
It's important to keep an eye on your dog's routines, just like any other member of your family. If your partner, or one of your children, all of a sudden started oversleeping a lot, then that would be a sign that maybe something is wrong. So, if you notice that one of your dogs has all of a sudden started sleeping much more, it might be a good idea to take a trip down to the vet.
As a rule, puppies will play hard, sleep hard, and sleep often. As dogs get older, they will start to sleep less and develop a more normal routine.
This isn't just a dog behavior, but something we've seen from cats, horses, donkeys, and all other manner of pets before too. The zoomies is the term we use for the burst of energy an animal gets, usually seemingly for no reason. They'll go at a full sprint running around the field, or the room, until all of a sudden stopping, which can be confusing if you've never seen anything like that before.
If your dog gets the zoomies, it's just a sign that they're healthy and blowing off some energy. You might even want to think about joining them and playing along for a few minutes until they get too tired to keep going!
Depending on whether your dog is a male or a female, the way that you take walks everyday is going to change. With a male dog, chances are you're going to be stopping at every spare tree or bush that another dog has peed at, just so your dog can mark its territory. When he does that, he'll probably lift his leg into the air, which we always thought was so he didn't pee on himself. But the actual answer makes so much more sense.
Apparently, dogs lift their legs because it allows them to cover more area and therefore more effectively mark their territory.
A lot of the time, when a dog wants to play it'll have a telltale sign. Some dogs go get their ball and bring it to their owner. Other dogs will sit by the door and whine to go outside. However, a lot of other dogs will do what's called a sploot. Corgis especially are famous for this. Splooting means the dog just flops down on its belly in a vulnerable position while they're waiting for your next direction.
This is also one of the more clear ways that dogs show affection. It's not the most comfortable position, but they're doing it to get a reaction out of you!
We love when a dog gets tired and all floppy. But, at all times of the day, if a dog is flopping over and leaning on you, pat yourself on the back. This means the dog is comfortable with you and wants you to protect them while they rest. It's almost like the dog is giving you a little doggie hug! So, if this happens to you, just relax and let the dog do the same.
This could also happen if a dog is scared. But, if they're leaning on you, it means they want you to protect them from the problem, so it's still a wonderful thing.
We're not entirely sure why, but dogs seem to love rolling around on the ground and getting all dirty. To be clear, we don't think it's the part where they get dirty that they like. It's probably the fact that they can scratch their shoulder blades. But, if your dog likes doing this, it probably means that you're going to be bathing your pooch much more frequently. Just don't let them back outside while they're still wet or it'll get even worse.
A lot of dogs also have a tendency to roll in Goose poop because they like the smell. So, if you live in an area with a heavy goose population, keep your dog out of any marshy fields.
As human beings, we create sentimental attachments to things and hold onto them for long spans of time. Dogs are very similar in this respect, and will form an emotional attachment to their owners, their favorite spot on the couch, or their toys! That's why you shouldn't be surprised if you see a dog walking around carrying a toy! It's a perfectly normal behavior in human toddlers, why can't we cut dogs the same type of slack?
Just be careful, dogs can also be forgetful. So, you don't want to bring their favorite toy out of the house, and then wind up losing it.
Since all dogs show their signs of affection differently, it's not always so easy to tell if a dog is happy to see you or not. Luckily, there's one sure-fire sign that a dog is having a good time, and that's if they are sneezing! When dogs get excited, for some reason, they'll do little fake sneezes to let you know they're having fun! It's an easy way for them to communicate without stopping what they're doing.
We've seen this a lot with dogs who play fake-aggresively. For example, if a dog is growling, but still wants you to take their toy, they might growl, sneeze, and then growl while watching you and waiting to play.
Service dogs fill a number of different functions in our society. They are used for everything, from assisting the police to caring for the handicapped. That's why it's incredibly important to listen to service dog owners, and the directions given on a dog's vest and patches. These are working animals who are specially trained to sniff out drugs, money, dead bodies, poison– you name it– and we civilians need to be able to give them their space to do that work.
We've even heard of service dogs being trained to be able to detect trace measurements of gluten in food for people who suffer from Celiac disease. How crazy is that?
Just like we might get used to the smell of a significant other, our dogs get used to the way we smell. So, if we're out of the house for an extended period of time, chances are our dogs are going to find a pile of our clothes and burrow in. It helps them to feel comfortable and think of us while we're gone, which in turn keeps the dog calm.
If you have a dog that keeps doing this all the time, chances are they're dealing with some separation anxiety, which you may want to discuss with your veterinarian in order to protect your pet from any undue stress.
When dogs are puppies, there are two things that don't ever seem to match, and that's the dog's paws and its ears. Usually, dogs these body parts will grow a little bit over time, but the dog more so has to grow into them– especially the ears. Still, did you know that a dog's ear has 18 separate muscles that come together to do all those cute little waves and winks that we've grown to love?
For reference, the human hand operates with only 34 muscles. So, that's a lot of fire power just for a dog to be able to wiggle its ears, but we're so glad that's the way it worked out regardless!
When people say their pets are like their family, they mean it. Most people keep their dogs for longer than they keep most of their boyfriends or girlfriends. So, when you're bonding with an animal, you should know that this is going to be a special, lifelong bond that neither you nor the dog is going to easily forget. That's also why dogs, like humans, show a lot of favoritism. They want to spend their time with their best friends!
At the end of the day, this is probably why dogs have earned the moniker of being man's best friend.
When a dog has to use the bathroom, they're more vulnerable than at any other time. That's why animals like horses have developed in order to just use the bathroom while moving and avoid predators. But, dogs still need to squat, and it can make them scared they're going to be attacked while they're doing their business. That's why they might stare at you for guidance or support while using the bathroom.
You also might see a dog spin around a few times before using the bathroom. This is so they can check their surroundings and ensure there are no threats in the area.
Just like a significant other if you've been spending too much time out of the house, dogs will get jealous if you're spending too much time with other dogs. They can notice that your attention isn't solely on them, and they may get offended and start to ignore you in response. Of course, this is just childish, and they'll come back for more attention soon. But, just like humans, we have to remember that dogs are sensitive sometimes too.
This is one of the reasons why so many people struggle to add a second dog into their home. The first dog is almost always going to have a harder time adjusting.
You would think that you offer your dog enough love and affection for them to feel fine and secure if you leave them to go to the bathroom for five minutes, but that is not always the case. Your dog can follow you to the bathroom because it's not used to not having you in sight at all times, which is adorable but could also be a little exhausting.
Another reason your dog might be following you into the bathroom is their pack mentality - they simply want to protect you at this vulnerable time, as part of their pack. Aw!