How To Communicate With Your Dog: Master Body Language

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
There is more and more evidence nowadays that dogs understand humans. Simply said, they get the point. Discover what's the best way to talk to your dog and why you should ignore all those strange looks that you get when you are talking to your dog on the street. Read on.

It is known that dog owners talk with their furry buddies. No shame in it. Moreover, it’s beneficial both for your and your dog’s health. It’s even beneficial for your mutual bond. After all, parents talk to their children when they want to bond with them. And, truth to be told, many pet owners see their pets as their own children.

But, does talking to your dog in the same way as you would talk to a human infant leads to the exact bonding effect? Recent studies point that there might be a significant similarity.

Good to know: When it comes to training your dog, baby voice talk should be avoided

Humans and dogs have lived together for thousands of years. During that period we evolved together. Moreover, we have learned how to communicate with each other.

Our ability to communicate with dogs and understand them is one of the main reasons why our legendary human-dog bond survived for so long. However, it took some time for us to learn dogs’ body language. Furthermore, it took some time for dogs to learn our vocal language, as well. And that’s how a dog communicates best, through vocal and body language.

How To Communicate With Your Dog?

Humans are known for mainly using language as a form of communication. However, we’re still communicating with each other even without words. Our facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, and movement all send messages of how we feel. Often, only gestures are enough to communicate what you’re thinking about.

Although non-verbal is the primary type of canine communication, they can still get some messages from our words. Humans also learned that hugs, hand gestures and touch are effective ways of communicating with their four legged companions.

Step 1. Understanding Your Dog – How Dogs Communicate With Us?

Despite a close relationship between humans and dogs that exists for more than 10,000 years, our furry friends seem to have retained plenty of communication methods from their closest relative, the wolf.

Dog’s primary way of communication is through their bodies. They use every part of their body to communicate their wishes and emotional state. Recognizing canine communication signals lets their owners, veterinary clinicians and other people understand the message a dog is sending.

Wiggling tail, sad eyes, ears down – those are just a few of many ‘talking’ ways in canine’s world. If you think that body language is not that important, think twice, because there is a reason why most trainers first teach basic clues like ‘sit’ by using a hand signal, instead of a verbal one.

Non-verbal communication is extremely important to our canines. Therefore, it is crucial for our understanding of their needs. Dogs are using non-verbal communication better than anyone else and science backs it up.

Dog Body Language Signs

dog pawing

Intuitively, you probably know what’s your dog’s current mood. Whether you want it or not, by living with your furry pal, you unconsciously absorb all the messages he sends to you with his body language signals.

This way, you know when your dog is relaxed, scared, angry or anxious.

Good to know: These symptoms may also be signs of underlying health issues or mental disorders. If you think about it, we’re not any different in this than dogs. You can also tell from a person’s posture, facial expression, and position of arms, hands, or legs how they are feeling.

Let’s briefly describe what are some body language signs that will tell you exactly how your dog feels.

Body PartRelaxedConfidentAnxiousAggressive
Stance Standing or laying down relaxed Firm Low Solid
Tail Up and wagging Wagging slowly Wrapped under Very rigid and straight up
Ears As their normal state Up with a relaxed look Down Pricked up
Mouth Open or slightly closed Completely closed or lightly set apart Panting Lips back, teeth showing
Eyes Focused, regular pupil dilation Small pupils Wide open Focused stare
Hackles x x x Present *

* Hackles – hair that starts at the base of the neck and runs down the shoulders is strongly raised up if a dog is feeling aggressive. On the other hand, you can notice that their hair is low when the dog is relaxed.

Barking Royalty consulted one of the world’s most noted and celebrated veterinary behaviorists, Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, about this topic and he gave us a great insight on dog communication really few people know about. We would all assume that a wagging tail inevitably means a happy dog, right? Well, apparently, animal behavior expert has something more to say about it.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman suggests: “A wagging tail does not always mean a dogs is friendly – depends which side is wagging to. Bias to the right is friendly. To the left, watch out.”

Apart from these main moods dogs can get into, we all know that there’s more to that. Your dog can be slightly irritable one day, extremely playful the next day, and completely relaxed and laid back the day after. Dogs feel a lot of things, and we’re sure you notice and analyze even the slightest changes in your dog behavior in order to understand better how’s he doing at the moment.

We will now mention several behaviors and positions your dog might be doing from time to time. Some people misinterpret these behaviors by thinking their dog is depressed, when, actually the case is quite opposite. So, in order to make it clear and easier for you, take a look at these most common dog signals.

  • Bowing – Your dog is facing you with his head and chest low on the ground. His front legs are spread out toward you while his tail and rear end are up. This is one of the most common ways dogs tell us they want to play. In vet world, this signal is also known as the “play bow”.
  • Hip Swings – These represent another clear sign of a playful pooch. He will usually come close to you, getting his rear near you in order to show trust. Although it is usually a sign of excitement and playfulness, sometimes it can also mean your pup simply wants a scratch.
  • Pawing – Some dogs raise their paws to touch their owners in order to get attention. They might want to request something, or they simply want to play. It’s your dog’s way of saying “Hey” without barking

Recently, scientists have found that there are 19 gestures that dogs use to communicate with us.

These signs are easy to memorize and learn. Moreover, once you start taking extra caution to your dog’s non-verbal signs you will be able to easily recognize each state. Furthermore, if you truly want a most profound bond with your dog learning to speak his language is the best thing that you can do for your connection.

Stressed Dog Signs

In order to make a great bond with your dog, it is also crucial to understand when your dog is stressed. Unfortunately, humans often misinterpret the signs dogs are sending us as something else.

Dog trainer Kathy Reidy helped us understand how our dogs communicate that they are feeling uncomfortable:

“A dog yawning doesn’t mean it is tired and ready for bed. Its what we call displacement behaviour, or calming signal. It is just that something has just made the dog feel uncomfortable or stressed and it the dogs way of dealing with the stress.

Same with licking of lips doesn’t mean hunger (unless your dog is watching you eat something yummy!)

It is the dogs way of coping with stress. We often see these behaviours in videos of young children interacting with a dog or when something is too close in the dogs personal sphere.

The ultimate stress release for a dog is a full body shake off– when something novel is in the dogs environment the dog may do this complete shake off and this is a way he resets and is ready to keep going, a bit like us going phew that was different, we let out a big breath of air and then we move on. ”

Kathy also reminds us that we should praise our dogs when they show they are stressed as they help us stay more connected to how our dogs feel in different situations.

Understanding Dog Vocalizations

You don’t have to be a canine expert in order to realize dogs communicate vocally too. The fact that they don’t use words, doesn’t mean they are not sending vocal signals in their own way. Dogs can bark, growl, yelp, howl, whine and these all different types of vocalizations mean different things.

But, as not each dog growl is aggressive, each dog’s bark isn’t alarming either. Every of these vocalizations have different forms and are used in different situations.

A short, frequent bark, accompanied by growling is probably aimed at warning you of potential threat. On the other hand, a high-pitched bark and soft growling are often a sign of friendliness and playfulness. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what of each of these mean.

Recognizing your dog’s “words” will make it a lot easier to communicate with your dog properly. If you listen to him well and pay attention to context in which your dog’s sounds occur, you will surely be able to find a pattern and understand what your dog is trying to communicate.

Pay attention!
Persistent, high-pitched whines that could be caused by discomfort, pain or even intense anxiety.

Step 2. Speaking To Your Dog – How To Properly Communicate With Your Dog?

dog and girl

Now that you know precisely the ways your dog communicates with you, it is the right time to give you some wanted answers. How to speak dog? How do you learn to communicate better with your dog?

Logically, a proper communication with your dog is the key to having a loving relationship with your pup that will enable both of you a lot of fun times, new tricks and a more relaxed symbiosis. So how do you do it? Well, it turns out you just have to follow the way your dog’s brain works.

Therefore, the absolute first thing to do is to listen and observe. Dog and human communication is much more than only commands. Your dog will never understand what you’re exactly saying, however, you can make plenty of things more clear that your pup will slowly but easily pick up the message you’re trying to emit.

So, instead of focusing on words (a.k.a. commands), pay close attention to your non-verbal communication channels such as voice tone, body language and gestures.

However, there is one thing you should have in mind before this all, according to Dr. Kate Mornement. She suggests:

“The key to proper communication with your dog is to be kind, consistent and to teach them desired behaviour. Dogs learn from the consequences of their behaviour. Consistently providing reinforcement as a consequence for behaviour you like (such as sitting calmly or lying on their bed) will result in your dog repeating those behaviours. Over time and with repetition your dog’s behaviour will improve.”

Using Body Language

If you spent a lot of time surrounded with dogs, you will know that commands often don’t function if you’re not using the proper gestures or if you’re standing wrong. This practically means that the words directed to your dog should only come after you have already set the right tone, chose the right gesture and only when you appear calm and reliable to your dog. Let’s examine what are the primary ways you can use your body language to set the right tone for the message you want to send to your dog.

When you’re expecting your dog to understand what you’re saying, you don’t want to look threatening to him. On the other side, if you’re trying to train him, you don’t want to be too easy going so he doesn’t see you as an authority that he should listen to.


If you ever trained a dog, you surely know that gestures make every command much easier to learn. Your dog observes how you move and what you do, and can often realize that you always do the same hand movement whenever you tell him to ‘Sit’ or to ‘Give You High Five’.

You can even get your dog to follow your nonverbal cues instead of auditory commands. You just have to make sure they watch you closely, and give them time to connect the desired action with your hand signal.

There are different ways you can give a clear hand signal to your dog that might develop into a new way you and your dog communicate.

In any case, when you expect your dog to do something, and he doesn’t really respond on your vocal command, try gesturing it with your hands. Chances are that your dog will more likely get what you mean when you use your non-verbal communication channels. Try to think of your dog as a toddler for a second, and explain what you want them to do without using words.

But, although dog definitely show preference for gestures over verbal commands, a study showed that our canine companions actually respond most reliably when both are combined.

Eye Contact

Another crucial thing for establishing a clear “conversation” with your dog is your eye contact. You don’t want to stare freakishly at your dog and scare him off. He might get confused and even a little bit aggressive because a long, focused stare in animal world means “you are my enemy”.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch your dog in his eyes. Just make sure your eye contact is stable, reciprocal and not too long. Also, dog trainer Kathy Reidy suggests that we should pay attention to how dogs are interacting among them for the first time they meet. They approach each other side on, with loose body and not direct eye contact.

Follow the same when greeting a dog for the first time, and you’re good to go!

Verbal Communication With Canines

Although dogs don’t have extraordinary comprehension skills, they are still able to understand what we are saying to them. According to canine behaviorist Dr. Stanley Coren, dogs can learn up to 165 words. But, he also reveals one important thing about the verbal communication with canines.

It’s not only the words you’re using, it’s also the tone of voice you have when you say them. In fact, non-verbal elements of what you’re saying matter more to your dog than the words.

Dogs Respond Better To High-Pitched Voices

A recent study found that high-pitched, “sweet” sounding voices were more likely to catch dogs’ attention than low or quiet voices. Therefore, using your “baby voice” to talk to your dog will surely give you better results than using your “serious tone”.

This will be especially useful in cases when you’re in highly distracting environment with a lot of noises. Just use a high-pitched voice or whistle and your dog will likely react.

On the other hand, you can also use your baby voice while you’re recall training your dog. Calling him in an excited voice will make him want to come to you the fastest possible!

Avoid Raising Your Voice

If you yell at your dog in order to make him do something or stop doing something, than you’re communicating with your dog the wrong way. By raising your voice or telling “No!”, you might stop your dog from doing something, but that will likely only be a temporary interruption.

Actually, it might make things worse as your dog will probably not understand what was all the yelling aimed at. (especially if you yell at them after they did something wrong, and not in the moment they are doing it)

Dog behaviorist Dr. Kate Mornement added, “Yelling at your dog is a form of punishment which aims to stop a behaviour. However research shows that punishment is not as effective as positive reinforcement and can damage the relationship between owners and their dog. When you reinforce the desired behaviour consistently, with something your dog values, the likelyhood of unwanted behaviour is significantly reduced.”


A pro tip for establishing a great communication with your dog by a very successful dog behaviorist Kathy Reidy is:

“Be kind to your best friend by always catching and acknowledging them for doing something good – even if they are doing nothing. Being quiet while you’re watching your favorite TV show is the perfect time to do it. Dogs understand better if you tell them rather what they are doing good than telling them when they are bad.”


Vocal commands are one of the most important parts of communication between humans and dogs. As we mentioned, dogs are capable of understanding around 165 words. But it is not only the syllables that trigger your dog’s brain to recognize what you’re saying, it is also your tone of voice and the clarity you’re prounouncing them with.

Dogs love to please their owners, so with a proper approach, your dog might learn to do a lot of things on your signal in order to get your appraisal.

Teaching your dog basic commands is also a very important part of your communication. First of all, in order for your dog to know to sit on command, you two should already have a good base for bringing your communication on the next level. On the other hand, some of the basic commands are very useful in catching your dog’s attention.

‘Sit’ or ‘Look’ commands will surely set the perfect ground to continue explaining what you intended. By making your dog understand these basic commands, teaching him more complex commands will be much easier.

However, commands have another role in the relationship between you and your dog. Not only do they help your Fido be a real smartie pants, but they also enable you two to spend some more stress-free time together.

In any case, make sure you are clear, consistent and concise with your commands. Before your dog picks up the meaning of the word you are saying, you will have to repeat it several times, and, potentially, use your hand in order to gesture what your message is about. Also, keep in mind that you have to use the same tone of voice in order to not confuse your dog. Saying the same thing in a happy and angry way might completely confuse him (he will probably decide to understand better the “happy” tone).

Be patient and consistent and your dog will surely learn all you need him to know.

10 Rules Of Dog Language

Follow these tips in order to find the perfect way to communicate with your dog.

  1. Be an active listener – In order to establish a good communication with your dog, you will have to pay attention to the messages he’s sending you. Pay close attention to his body language as well as vocalization to understand your dog’s mood and overall character.
  2. Glaze back – Dogs are using their eyes to communicate. Make sure that you communicate back, using the same language of eye contact. When a dog gives you a long and lingering eye contact it’s his way of saying ‘I love you.’ When you share the gaze you are sharing the love. But, don’t stare in a forceful manner as it can be interpreted as a sign of aggression.
  3. Pay attention to your facial expressions – Dogs are great when it comes to reading your emotions. They do so through our facial expressions. Japanese behavioral scientists proved that when a dog loves someone or feels connected he will raise his left eyebrow more than the right. So, when you are greeting your dog with a relaxed smile and raised eyebrows he will see it as a gesture of love.
  4. Use your baby voice – Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to use baby voice. Studies showed that dogs prefer high-pitched, sweet voices much more than low ones. Also, the more excited you sound, the likelier your dog’s response will be.
  5. Watch the tone of your voice – Don’t raise your voice when your dog gets something wrong. Switch between an enthusiastic and slightly angry (more serious) tone for talking to your dog and correcting him. This way he will be able to understand the context of your words.
  6. Be consistent, clear and patient – Dogs need some time before understanding your commands and the meaning of your words. Make sure you always say the commands in the same manner, without modifying words or your tone of voice. Consistency and patience are crucial when developing a proper communication with a dog.
  7. Always praise good behavior – Make sure that you react adequately whenever your dog shows you love. Always salute a wagging tail and eye contact.
  8. Create a stronger bond with shared nap time – Those who work hard, rest harder. Dogs love to be part of the pack. That’s why they insist on sleeping together with you. But, if you are not about sharing the bed with your dog during the whole night, an afternoon nap together on the couch or even outdoor in the grass, can do wonders for your bond. Just like dogs, humans thrive on physical contact. So, even if your dog may not enjoy a strong hug, he will love a nice cuddle session.
  9. Be regular with your training sessions – Dogs love routine and strict schedule. Your dog will find happiness on a daily walk. He will see the mutual activity as a sign of your eternal love. Walks and adventures are great ways to work on mutual language skills. Moreover, time outside can can give plenty opportunities for additional training, especially if your canine is just a puppy. Overall, this is a great pack connection!
  10. Don’t forget the ‘Love touch’ – Petting your dog releases oxytocin, both in you and your dog. So, longer petting time, gentle and long grooming session or a simple head-massage will tell your dog how much you love him. Bonding time always creates a better connection between dogs and their owners and enables a clearer communication in future.

Learning how to tell properly to your dog that you love him is a great way to boost communication with your dog. Moreover, it’s a great way to work on strengthening your bond. Each step of these love languages seems to benefit dogs and your sense of well-being.

Check out our infographic and share it on your favorite social media!

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Dog And Human Communication

So, if you ever asked yourself if dogs get the point the thing is that they do. Especially if you say it with a specific tone and dog-related words. Therefore, evidence of dogs understanding us completely has accumulated demonstrating that canines are extremely skillful in using human forms of communication.

This potential makes them unique in the animal kingdom. Actually, there is no animal that can understand human communication as flexibly as domestic dogs can.

That’s why it is so important to talk to your dog. That’s how they learn the best. Just like infants.

Infants learn the words the best when we talk with them using the baby voice. Similar goes for the dogs, especially puppies. So, if you feel like talking in a baby voice to your dog you should feel free to do so. And just ignore the looks.