As a species we speak many languages. Personally, I only speak my native English fluently, and a little bit of the High School German I took many years ago. I’d be completely at a loss if someone started speaking a different language as I’d have no idea what they were saying. For humans, speech is our primary means of communication.
Dogs however, rely primarily on body language. Yes, they do vocalize: barking, howling, whining, and whimpering convey all sorts of information. But vocalizations are not a dog’s primary means of communication. When dogs communicate with other dogs, they strongly rely on body language to understand what the other dog may be trying to tell them.
The really cool thing about dog communication, is that they don’t have a language that is specific to location. So, the dog who lives in France, would be just as easily able to communicate with the dog that lives in Germany, or a dog who lives in China. Their visual signals are universal, but despite the fact that almost 40% of homes in the USA has a dog, most people don’t really understand dog body language, meaning there is a lot of miscommunication.
This lack of understanding in reading a dog's body language, is a cause of a lot of conflict between people and our canine companions. Sometimes dogs are in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. Because the people around don’t realize that the dog is communicating that they are stressed or fearful, the dog isn’t given the help it needs. And sometimes a dog will decide to take matters into their own paws and snap or even bite to try and get rid of the threat.
When an incident happens, it’s common for the person involved to say that the dog didn’t give any warning, and that the dog was unprovoked. Healthy dogs will always give a warning, and dogs do not react defensively or aggressively without a reason. These assumptions are a result of not being able to understand how to speak dog. It wasn’t that the dog didn’t give a warning, it’s that the person didn’t understand that the dog was giving one.
Benefits of reading a dog's body language
Being able to look at your dog and realize that they are uncomfortable, anxious or stressed will allow you to be a better owner. Once you understand that your dog is nervous or unhappy, they give you the opportunity to remove them from the situation. Reading a dog's body language also gives you a head up as far as what situations to avoid in the future, or what training should be implemented to help your dog feel comfortable in those situations.
As a dog separation anxiety trainer, it is extremely important that my owner clients be able to read dog. In training a dog that has separation anxiety, our goal is to have the dog learn to be able to be comfortable when left alone. If you don’t know how to read your dog’s anxiety signals accurately, successful separation anxiety training will be almost impossible to achieve.
So how do you learn how to read a dog's body language? Just like learning another language, it takes translation, and practicing. The good thing is that you don’t have to speak dog yourself! Once you know what to look for, you can just put your observational skills to good use and with some practice you’ll become fluent!
So, take the dog body language quiz below, find out how much you know, and learn something new!