How to communicate with your dog

How to communicate with your dog

Knowing how to communicate with your dog can do wonders for your relationship. Having a basic understanding of canine behaviour and body language can also be extremely helpful when it comes to training your pup. Whether you’re out and about on walks and trying to keep Fido under control, trying to improve your bond, or doing obedience training, understanding how dogs see the world is certainly a huge benefit.


And if you are thinking of getting a dog or adopting a rescue dog, then it’s always wise to have dog insurance in case anything happens and they need treatment. You’ll want to compare dog insurance quotes in order to find the best cover for your pet.


Dogs are social animals and social interactions with other dogs and humans are important to them. They’re smart companions because they learn to modify their behaviour in order to suit different situations. The first thing a lot of owners think about when it comes to canine communication is how they speak to their dog.


But our best friends have many other ways that they communicate, including touch and smell. Did you know that a dog’s eyesight is not as important to them as their sense of smell? In fact, they have 220 million olfactory receptors, to put that in perspective, humans only have 5 million. Dogs will often rely heavily on their sense of smell, as well as other forms of non-verbal communication.




Our canine friends see a lot of the world through their sense of smell. They even use it to communicate with their furry friends. This is what is known as olfactory communication. It may sound a little disgusting, but they use urine as a way of communicating with each other. Leaving their scent in different places (scent marking) helps to give other dogs information about them. Dogs can tell all sorts of information about another dog just by their smell including age, health, mood and gender.


And it’s not just other dogs that they can use smell to figure out information for. They use it for us humans, too. Ever heard the saying dogs can literally smell fear? When our emotions change and we’re stressed, worried or upset, dogs just always seem to know. And it’s because our scent changes with our emotions. So do keep this in mind when you’re around your dog. If you are training them for example, try to stay calm and focused or they will sense your frustration.


Dogs may be more sensitive to new smells than you might think. They notice them straight away and can tell a lot of information about a new environment just by how it smells. This is why when you go to new places they often spend ten or fifteen minutes having a good old sniff of everything in sight. This is their way of ‘looking around’.

Dog lifting its head with eyes closed to smell the air



As well as body language and smell, dogs use sound as a way of communicating. But they don’t just bark, they make lots of other noises, too. You may have heard your dog whine or give out a whimper to show they are in pain or distress, or you might have heard your dog growl. Dogs use a growl as a warning to other canines and people that they are uncomfortable. Domestic dogs are known to bark more than their wild cousins, but this is most likely due to the fact we’ve bred them to do so. Many breeds have been encouraged to bark in order to take on the role of being a guard dog.


In terms of barking, your pup may bark for numerous reasons. They might simply want attention and won’t stop barking until they get it! Or they could just be a little over excited and in some cases, they may be protecting you or themselves.


How to speak to your pet


The way you speak to your dog can have an impact on their behaviour, too. In a study where dogs were spoken to in a neutral voice and then with a praising intonation, they found with the latter, they got more of a positive response. Plus, they also found that the dogs in the study only experience pleasure sensations if the words were said in a praising tone.


So basically, if you want to encourage your dog to do something, make sure this comes across in your tone of voice. There’s even some evidence to show that using baby talk can improve your bond with your dog; have a read of this article by the BBC to learn more.


Body language


You can gain a great deal of information just by observing a dog’s body language. Humans use body language to communicate how we feel, and our canine companions do, too. They’re also extremely adept at reading our body language and interpreting how we’re feeling.


Watch Fido for an hour or so, and you will begin to notice them expressing different body language. When looking at a dog’s body language there are some key areas to focus on including the ears, tail, body, mouth, eyes and heckles.


Just like humans may give off signals if they want to be left alone, our pooches will use their stance and appearance to communicate with other dogs and signal whether they are happy to be approached. If a dog is content and relaxed, they will have a neutral stance and a relaxed tail. If they are happy and excited to greet a person or a dog, they may wag their tail. Dogs that are scared are easy to spot once you know the signals. Their ears will go back, they may crouch low towards the ground and tuck their tail between their legs.


Being able to pinpoint and identify signs of stress in your dog can be very handy. It means you can take notice and, if necessary, remove them from situations which make them uncomfortable. Fearful, stressed dogs will have what’s known as whale eye (wide eyes), they might bark, pant or scratch excessively, yawn and back away from the threat.

Brown dog running along a pebbly beach at sunset

Canine body language - non-verbal communication


When it comes to non-vocal communication, dogs express how they are feeling via different parts of their body. Below we’ve explained about different body parts and how they might be used.



Just like humans, you can tell a huge amount from a dog’s facial expressions. Pay particular attention to their eyes, mouth and ears. A tense jaw, excessive salivating, panting, yawning and licking can be signs of stress. As mentioned above, wide eyes can also show that a dog is nervous. Fearful dogs will often also pin their ears down and back. A relaxed pooch will have their ears in the normal position (this is different for different breeds). Also check their mouth and lips, if a dog feels threatened they might curl their lips and show their teeth.



The tail makes up a large part of doggy communication, they use it a lot to show how they’re feeling. Their tail can show whether they are happy, relaxed, excited, scared or wary. Originally, dogs mainly used their tails for balance, but they’ve gradually learned to utilise their tails for communication purposes.


Let’s say you’re in the dog park, and another pooch runs up to your dog. Have a look at their tail to see if you can identify what they’re feeling. It can be a good indicator of whether they're happy to be approached. But don’t just use their tail as the only sign, it’s important to take their whole body stance into consideration, too. Research has shown that dogs will usually wag their tail to the right first if they’re happy. Often, dogs that are scared will move their tail to the left first.


Body stance


Generally, how does Fido’s body stance look? Is your dog crouched low to the ground, standing in a calm, neutral stance or standing firm and tense? All of these things can help you to understand their mindset. If their body is tense, they may simply be scared or they could be showing signs of agitation and aggression.


If you’re wondering the different emotions dogs try to communicate through body language, check out this explanation, which includes the characteristics of fearful, aroused, anxious and aggressive dogs. You can also see some handy body language images with an explanation on the Blue Cross website.


How do dogs communicate with each other?


We’ve touched on how our canine companions communicate with each other above. Sure, they can bark and vocalise how they feeling via sounds but they have other, perhaps more important, ways of giving off signals, like their stance, tail, body language and also scenting. So as you can see, dogs using lots of methods to communicate with each other.

Two dogs running and playing whilst out on a walk at dusk

How can we communicate with dogs?


Owners usually communicate with dogs via commands and speech. Though if you just used speech as a form of communication, you’re missing out on many other ways to bond with your best friend.


As mentioned above, dogs can tell us how they are feeling by their body language, too. And you can also communicate via touch.


Stroking your pup is good for both you and them (provided they are happy with being stroked). It helps release happy endorphins and helps strengthen your bond. Humans can also use their body language to show Fido how to behave.


As well as using vocal commands for training, try using hand signals. For example, pointing at the floor when you say ‘sit’ can get your dog to establish this command with meaning sit, and eventually you won’t need to say the word ­– you can just do the hand signal.


What language do dogs speak?


Woof what? Let’s just say, dogs don’t have one language that they speak, but they can learn to recognise certain sounds to mean different things. The word ‘sit’ may be different in different languages, but dogs can learn to recognise a particular word, no matter the language to mean a specific thing. They have their own doggy language that they use to communicate with each other which includes different sounds, from barking to growling, whimpering and howling.


Canine communication - what not to do


We’ve covered a lot of the things you should do, but what about the things you should maybe avoid when it comes to communicating with your pooch? Here are some things to try and avoid…

Sad dog laying down and looking up nervously

Shout and yelling at your dog

It’s fair to say that some dogs can test our patience sometimes. Pooped on the carpet? Naughty Fido. Chewed the sofa? How dare he. Or maybe they are having a day where they are just constantly winding you up. It’s important to always keep your cool, because raising your voice and getting angry may not help. In fact, it could anger your dog even more, or worse, terrify them. Instead, stay calm and give them some time out, send them to their bed or restrict their toys. Harsh punishment doesn’t work with dogs and it can cause them to develop aggression if provoked enough.


Being overbearing

There are probably some days where you need your space and you don’t want to be hugged or cuddled, right? Getting to know your dog’s body language can help you pinpoint when perhaps Fido doesn’t want to be bothered and needs a bit of space. If they don’t want to be stroked, let them be. And if they need time to calm down after a stressful situation, give it to them. Allow them to chill out in a place where they feel safe, like their bed for example.


Confuse your dog

When it comes to communication, keep things simple and straightforward. For example, when trying to get your dog to lay down, don’t repeatedly shout lay down at them, use different variations of the word and use different body signals to try to get them to do as their told. Keep things consistent, always use the same words for the same commands, and if you do use a hand signal, make sure everyone in your family uses the same one.


Compare dog insurance


If you own a dog, at some point in their life it’s likely you’ll need to rely on dog insurance to pay expensive vet bills. Costs can really add up, especially if Fido needs an unexpected operation or gets a nasty injury. Take a look online today and compare dog insurance to get the most suitable cover for your pooch.


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