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How dogs communicate

By Nicole Mackie

DOGS communicate with each other and humans in three ways. By sound, scent and body/facial expressions and movement. They are excellent at reading the facial expressions and body postures of one another as well as humans. Dogs are always reading our body language and they know how we are feeling or what mood we are in by our body language and tone of voice.

It is important that we learn how dogs communicate to communicate her own smell to her puppies so they can find their way to her for nursing. When dogs greet each other they sniff around the mouth, taking in all they can learn from the saliva and then they will sniff around the anal area, again learning about each other from chemical messages received from one another.

Facial-body language

Dogs have a vast variety of body and facial signals with each other so we can understand and meet their needs better. Sound communication Sound is one of the five senses of the dog. It is probably the weaker of the senses but is a used as a form of communication by dogs. There are many different sounds a dog can make such as barking growling, howling, yelping, whining, whimpering and moaning.

There are also different tones and depending on the size of the breed some will be able to bark very deeply like the St. Bernard while a smaller dog like the Fox terrier will bark with a much higher tone.

A bitch with puppies may growl as a warning or to discipline them. I have also noticed that when my bitch barks in the presence of her puppies they run into their den for safety. Her bark warns them of danger. A dog may bark deeply to warn others that this is his territory. He may bark differently if he wants to play. He may growl deeply if threatened, with the growls getting stronger and deeper as the dog begins to declare war.

Dogs may howl, especially those of the husky breeds, to communicate with one another. Dogs may whine and whimper if left alone or in pain or distress. They may also moan with pleasure if rubbed around the ears or in a tickly spot.

Scent communication

There are many ways in which dogs use scent to communicate. Pheromones are chemical messages that are produced by both males and females and are present in their urine, faeces, saliva, vagina, preputial and in their anal glands. A bitch in season will urinate frequently to inform any dogs nearby of her sexual state. A dog will urinate cocking his leg as high as he can to send chemical messages to any females of his whereabouts. The urine and faeces of dogs provide much information.

Dogs can derive much information from them such as the health of one another, the emotional state of the dog, whether male or female, and they distinguish individuals by their anal smells. If a bitch has puppies she will lick them with her saliva that displays to each their emotional, physical and sexual state. If we observe their body language we can learn just how they use their eyes, ears, mouths, stance, hair and tail to communicate. The eyes are an important means of communication. A more dominant dog will stare down a less dominant dog, while the submissive one avoids eye contact.

I often see my dogs stop and stare at each other with tails high, waiting on the first move towards a challenge, and then running off to play together. Sometimes one will wait in ambush for the other, jumping out to challenge it. Some of the ways a dog displays its body language are as follows:

Calmness: Ears, tail and body relaxed, no facial expression, forehead smooth, mouth open slightly.

Alertness: Tail erect, body stiff and leaning forward, eyes wide, ears up and forward.

Submission: Lying down, hind leg lifted exposing flanks, genital area, chest and neck, may urinate, lowered ears, widely stretched forehead and slit like eyes, may lick his lips, eye contact brief.

Frightened: Ears right back and flat on head, lips curled, crouching, tail between legs, tail may be bristling with short fast wag, may bite if approached.

Greeting: Licking face, beg regurgitated food, play bow, dancing action of forepaws, open jaw, exposed tongue, tail wagging with body quickly.

Aggression: Hackles up, tail held straight and stiff, rump up, lips pulling back exposing teeth and nose wrinkled, walking slowly, ears pointing forward, eyes wide open.

Increased aggression: Snarls with teeth exposed. The deeper the growls the more confident the dog is. Hair raised over withers, leaning forward, tail held high and hair bristling, standing to full height, face puckered, forehead furrowed with lines directed toward a point above the eyes, nose wrinkled, all teeth exposed. These facial expressions can also be displayed in a frightened dog.

Excitement: Panting, dancing with forepaws, play bow, appearance of laughing, may bark, pushing one another, twisting round, running off with back arched and hind-quarters drawn under body with tail pressed between legs.

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