If you have ever paid casual attention to your dog while they are making the rounds of the dog park, you will know that dogs are excellent communicators, not only with humans but also with each other.
Dogs can understand each other, although they do not have a structured language like humans do. Dogs communicate using a range of vocal cues, such as whining, barking, and growling, as well as physical signals, like the position of their tails and facial expressions. Other dogs can understand these signals, and sometimes humans can too.
You’ll never be able to translate Bruno’s “woof woof” into words, but with careful observation, you can learn to understand the vocal and physical signals dogs are giving each other. Read on to learn all you need to know about doggie communication.
When you are completely in love with your furry kid and know that you share a special bond, it can be easy to start believing that your dog understands every word you say.
Unfortunately, this is not true, and a string of barks from your dog will never translate into a coherent sentence. However, it’s clear that many dogs, especially working breeds such as Border Collies, are far from unintelligent.
How Much Do Dogs Understand?
Researchers have spent years trying to quantify dog cognition, and the results are surprising. According to some studies, most dogs have an intelligence level close to that of a 2-year-old child and can learn 165 words on average (source).
To learn more about dogs’ ability to learn human language, read “Do Dogs Know Their Name?”
This intelligence extends beyond learning human language. Many dogs are also able to deceive each other in play deliberately. What’s more, plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that dogs form lasting friendships with other dogs, as well as with other animals.
This shows that dogs are not only intelligent enough to remember their friends but also that they can communicate effectively with each other.
The Language of Dogs
All breeds of domestic dogs directly evolved from wolves from at least 30,000 years ago, and perhaps as long as 130,000 years ago (source). Wolves live in close-knit family groups or packs in which adults collaborate to hunt and raise young (source).
Thanks to this evolution, as well as many thousands of years spent in close social relationships with human beings, dogs are excellent communicators. Many of the signals they use to communicate with other dogs are the same as those your pup uses to “speak” to you.
What Do Dogs Say to Each Other When They Communicate?
As we know, dogs aren’t conducting complex philosophical discussions when they wag their tails at each other in the park, but they can convey a very wide range of emotions, intentions, wants, and needs.
Dogs experience many of the same emotions as humans. These can be negative, like anxiety, fear, anger, loneliness, and even jealousy, or they can be positive, such as happiness, excitement, and curiosity.
However, many researchers believe that dogs do not experience so-called secondary emotions, such as guilt or pride. What you interpret as guilt when your dog destroys a pillow is more likely a response to your anger and scolding (source).
Communication between dogs can also convey a multitude of messages apart from emotions. Your pooch may signal to another dog that he wants to play or mate, that your house is his territory, that he does not want to share his toy or food, or simply to say, “Hi” (source).
How Do Dogs Communicate With Each Other?
Dogs use their entire bodies to convey a wide variety of signals. These signals can be visual, tactile, auditory, and even olfactory (source). Paying close attention to these signals can help you understand what your dog is saying to his friend down the road or a stranger in the park.
Dogs communicate visually using eye contact, body language, and facial expressions. When your dog is in a playful mood, for example, their facial expressions may include ears that are perked forward in interest, inquisitive eyes, and a mouth that is wide open with the tongue lolling out (source).
They may also show playful body language, such as a wagging tail and a “play bow.”
When your dog is feeling aggressive, his visual communication may include raised hackles, a clenched jaw, fixed eye contact, and head held high. If your dog is cowering and looking away, this may indicate anxiety.
Vocalizations, including barking, growling, whining, and howling, are the type of dog communication people are most familiar with.
Many people believe that growling and barking always reflect aggression, but dogs use multiple types of barks or growls. They can also differentiate between another dog’s growl that shows their protecting their food and the one that indicates a stranger is posing a threat (source).
Dogs also often use higher-pitched barks and growls to invite each other to play.
Alternatively, dogs may howl to show that they are lonely, or like wolves, to show territoriality. Whines and whimpers, meanwhile, may be used to communicate pain or fear (source).
By observing your dog in different social situations and interactions with other dogs, you can learn to recognize the different kinds of vocalizations they make and what they mean.
To learn more about dog vocalization, you can read “Do Dogs Get Tired of Barking?”
The type of dog communication that is least accessible to humans is olfactory, which means through body odor. A dog’s sense of smell is thousands of times stronger than a human’s sense of smell, so they get a lot more information from a lamp post or another dog’s butt than you ever could!
Dogs use scent to communicate even when they aren’t in the same physical space. A male dog will indicate territoriality by peeing on trees or lamp posts, and the smell of her urine may indicate that a female dog is on heat.
Although dogs can recognize different humans by smell and may even recognize the scent of pregnancy or certain illnesses, this is not a form of canine communication available to us — it’s specific to canine communication.
Dog communication is complex and requires a dog’s entire body as well as all of their senses. Dogs use multiple cues to indicate their emotions and attitudes towards each other and to send messages about territory, mating, and social status.
Learning to read your dog’s body language and vocal cues may allow you to recognize their favorite friend at the park or even to intervene before a fight breaks out with a dog they don’t know. Just as you expect them to learn to sit and stay, it can be invaluable for you to also learn how your dog communicates with others.