How Do Dogs Communicate With Each Other?

how do dogs communicate with each other

Would you like to know how do dogs communicate with each other? Like us, they have different ways to communicate, because you probably know that our bodies can express more than our words. The same happens in dogs but to a greater degree. They also use actions to show what they feel and what they want to express.

This guide is perfect for you as a dog owner, because most owners have no idea about communication between dogs. It is key to understand specific behaviors of your pet such as sniffing and smelling, as well as certain postures. This knowledge will allow you to understand your dog better, and hence, improve you as an owner.

We see dogs communicating with each other almost every day. At the park, at home, on the streets. It happens, but only a few people can decode the message. Thanks to this guide, you will be part of that exclusive club. We will show you all the dog communication signals, so you can understand your pet like no one else.

By Scent

This is probably the less understood of dog communication signals. Smells are an effective way to get a message across amongst dogs because their sense of smell is much stronger. To put things in perspective, they have 300 million olfactory receptors, whereas humans only have 6 million receptors, which in consequence, makes it 50 times more important!

For example, they sniff other dogs to learn more about them, because their scent can tell their age, sex, and status in the group, all of which is vital information. That includes humans as well because your pet can tell how you feeling based on your smell.

The Urine – The Canine Finger Print

Did you know that the urine of dogs contains scents that are as unique as human fingerprints? Therefore, they are an excellent way to communicate, and of course, they are a great source of information. For example, in this study, they found out that bush dogs can recognize the sex of another dog just based on the smell of its urine.

Now you can understand why dogs smell fire hydrants, trees, bushes, electric poles and practically anywhere where a dog might have pissed. When your dog does it, it is getting important messages that other dogs have left such as how many dogs have been in that marked area or if there is a nearby female in heat.

Urine also plays an important role during a heat, because the urine of a female dog in heat contains special pheromones, which tell to male dogs that she is in season. Therefore, urine is the most powerful way to communicate through smells and scents.

Beyond Urine

Although urine is one of the most important ways to communicate through scents, it is not unique. Stools, saliva, and anal glands can also contain information to transmit important messages. Now you can understand why your dog stops to sniff stools you find when walking it or when dogs stop to smell each other’s backside.

Why Do Dogs Use Smell?

Now that you know what scents they use to communicate, and their respective rank, the question prevails, how does your dog use smell to communicate? What things are they communicating in concrete? What purpose do they serve? Find the answers below.

Mark Territory

Urine, as we have seen, contains unique scents, and therefore, dogs love to use it to mark their territory, to let other dogs that such area belongs to them. It is also their way to make a place feel like their home, and hence, increase comfort.

This is why dogs tend to urinate everywhere when you move to a new home. They feel like strangers, and therefore, they need to mark their territory.

Determine Rank

Dogs have a hierarchy, and therefore, they need to establish ranks. The best way to gather information from a dog is to smell it, and that is why they sniff each other. Based on certain scents, they can tell the full profile about the dog, and hence, determine who the most dominant dog is.

Usually, the most dominant dog will smell the subordinated dog first. It is their way to determine hierarchy without using violence.

Greeting

Dogs also use scents to greet each other and obtain vital information about the dog they are meeting. As we have seen, they can easily discover the sex, age, and status based on scents.

dogs smelling each other
Dogs have a sense of smell 50 times more powerful than ours as humans.

Sound & Hearing

After scent, the preferred way of communication between dogs is through sounds. They emit more sounds than just barking. Here is the full list:

  • Barking
  • Growling
  • Baying
  • Howling
  • Yelping
  • Whining

We will discuss each one, in short, to let you know the message behind them. This will allow you to react properly when your dog emits certain sounds in front of other dogs, animals or persons.

If you are wondering how do dogs communicate with each other and with humans, the sound and barking are the most obvious. But there’s a lot more!

Barking

The most common and important sound and it can express many different things:

  • Alert: It is sharp and intense, and in many cases, it is a staccato sound. They want to alert you about something unknown or dangerous
  • Boredom: It is repetitive and monotonous. It seems like it will never stop. They display this type of behavior when they do not receive enough physical and mental stimulation
  • Fear: It is loud, persistent and frustrating. It embodies fear in the entire spectrum. It is a common scenario when your dog has not been socialized properly because even normal objects from home can trigger it. The same goes for other dogs, animals, and people
  • Distress: It is repetitive, persistent and high-pitched. It is a common situation when dogs suffer from separation anxiety
  • Play: It just sounds playful. Normal tonality, average pitch and is not repetitive. Dogs use it when they are having fun

Now you know that, depending on the pitch, tonality, and situation, it can mean different things. Now that you also know about frequent scenarios, you can do quick fixes to solve problems like boredom barking.

Growling

Contrary to popular belief, growing is not always a warning before aggression. It can mean different things, and below we explore different scenarios:

  • Warning: When your dog is growling aggressively and loudly, and it displays defiant body language such as showing off its fangs, then it is ready to attack if you, another dog or another animal persists on whatever they are doing. Watch out for this sign when you are walking your dog or socializing it
  • Play: Dogs also tend to growl when they are playing. They usually growl lowly and with no signs of aggressiveness. Its body language will be relaxed and playful; it will transmit the vibe of chill and playfulness
  • Pleasure: Your pet may also growl when it feels pleasure. It is a usual scenario when you are petting it and giving it attention. Some breeds are more prone to display this behavior than others, for example, Rottweilers. They just want to tell you that it feels good.

Baying

Baying is more common amongst scent hounds such as the Basset Hound or the Beagle. It sounds like a deep moaning and dogs usually display it when they are chasing prey. Therefore, it is also common amongst hunting dog. If your pet emits this sound when chasing another animal or pet, then you can tell that it views it as a prey.

Howling

It is another common sound and high-pitched sounds like sirens, alarms and fire can trigger it. However, it can also mean different things:

  • Communication: Dogs also use it to locate other members of the group
  • Distress: If your dog howls constantly for no reason, then it can be a sign of distress and anxiety. It is also common when your dog does not receive enough attention and physical and mental stimulation
  • Signaling: In very specific cases, they can howl on cue. However, only a few owners teach their dogs to do it.

Yelping and Whining

Yelping is usually a display of pain, and therefore, it is a common symptom in different diseases ranging from arthritis to hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. Therefore, if your dog starts yelping all of a sudden, you should pay more attention to what is going on, because there may be a serious underlying cause.

Your dog will whine when it wants something or wants to go outside. They are high-pitched and emitted with a closed mouth. It displays that your dog is anxious and stressed. If your dog emits this sound persistently, then you need to stimulate it more physically and mentally, and of course, bring it more attention.

Visual Communication & Body Language

Great TED talk about animals and language!

Body language is also very important when it comes to canine communication. They use a wide myriad of gestures, poses, and physical signs to display what they are feeling and thinking. We will discuss the different scenarios below.

Alert

When something alerts your dog, for example, a possible threat or a new situation, he will display it by leaning forward, closing its mouth and putting its ears forward. If they feel it is a threat, then they may display it with growling or baying.

Relaxed

When your dog is calm, it will have a relaxed body posture with a relaxed tail that may be wagging. It shows that your dog is comfortable in such a situation. Generally, they do not emit sounds when they feel relaxed.

Submissive

When your dog tucks in its tail and its paws and lays down on its back, then it is because it wants to display a submissive posture. Dogs do it when they recognize a more dominant dog or they are scared. It is their way of surrendering and telling you not to hurt it.

Playful

Your dog will be loose and wiggly, bouncing into a bow position repeatedly. Furthermore, lots of movement, exaggerated facial expressions, and short pauses accompany it. In addition, they tend to wag their tail. They may accompany it with playful barking or low growling.

Dominant

When they want to display dominant behavior, especially when they have determined that they are higher in the hierarchy than the dog(s) they are interacting with, your dog will hold its tail high and hold a firm, forward and tall posture. It is their way of imposing respect and telling other dogs that they are ready to defend their position.

Anxious

When your pet feels nervous or anxious, it will display specific physical gestures such as ears back, leaning back and low tail. When they feel this way, they also tend to show the white of their eyes, to lick their lips and yawn.

Aggressive

When your dog is ready to attack, it will hold a tall and stiff posture, waving its tail like a flag and hold no hackles. Their eyes will look directly at you or the other dog, and they will accompany it with loud growling because it is their warning that they are willing to attack if necessary.

If you ever encounter yourself in this position, cease whatever you are doing that is triggering this behavior in the dog. In addition, do not run, just stand still and look away.

Excited

When your dog feels excited, for example, when you come back after many hours, it will move its tail very fast, put its ears forward and get ready to chase or pounce. They can also accompany it with low growling, to display their pleasure.

Frightened

A frightened dog will flatten its ears, tuck its tail and crouch its body. Furthermore, the fur on the back tends to stand straight and they accompany this body posture with barking, growling or snarling.

dog body language
Infographic: a visual representation of a dog’s most common behaviors and body language.

By Behavior

Finally, a dog can give you insights on how it is feeling and what it is thinking based on its behavior. We will analyze and discuss specific scenarios, so you can understand your pet better.

Yawning

It is their way of reducing pressure and stress, and therefore, it means your dog is stressed or facing some kind of danger. Furthermore, it can also yawn when it feels exhausted or confusing.

Shaking Head

Your dog will shake its head when it feels relieved. It is their way of expressing relief and they often display it after transitioning from alertness and aggressiveness to calmness.

Tilting Head to One Side

A dog will tilt its head to one side when it feels uncertain or confused about a thing that has captivated its attention. Furthermore, it is their way of demanding more information, and therefore, it is common during the training process.

Flicking Ears

Your pet will flick its ears when it wants to listen to something, especially if it is an unfamiliar sound. They tend to mix this behavior by tilting their head to one side.

Licking Lips

Many puppies tend to lick their lips and it is completely normal because it means they are uncertain about the new world that surrounds them. However, in adult dogs, it means excessive stress.

Opening Eyes and Staring

When your dog opens its eyes wide and stares, then it means it is alert. However, if you notice that your pet narrows its eyes and stares decisively and with intensity, then it is just a way of displaying dominance.

Raising Paws

Your dog will tend to raise its paws when it wants something from you, for example, a threat or a toy. In addition, they also do it when they want to play or to display affection towards you, especially if they touch you.

Walking in Circles and Lying Down

Normal behavior that dogs use to find the most comfortable place to lay down, especially if the same is new to them.

Humping

It can mean different things. If they do it to other dogs, then it is because they want to display total dominance. If they hump objects, then it is a warning sign of distress and anxiety. However, if your dog humps you, then you should understand that it is a peculiar way of demanding attention, or alternatively, for its favorite threats.

Now you have all the answers about how do dogs communicate with each other. As you have seen, their system of communication is more complex than it seems. Now that you have this information, you will be able to understand your pet better than most dog owners, and this will help you to train it like a pro and to attend its needs perfectly.

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