nonverbal dog communication
Dog communication and training

Nonverbal dog communication; Actions speak

nonverbal dog communication

Actions speak louder than words

Nonverbal dog communication can tell us a lot. While it’s true that dogs can’t speak in human words very well, they can still tell us what’s wrong in other ways. We can gather clues by watching and paying attention to how they behave, how they move, and their mood.

Dog behavior is nonverbal dog communication

One of the biggest areas that we can pay attention to is their behavior. Some behaviors are similar from one dog to the next, like panting when they’re really nervous.

However, dogs vary from one to the next in other areas, like meeting strangers. Some are naturally more friendly while others are more aloof.

You probably know your dog pretty well. I’ll bet you know if they’re the happy-go-lucky type or always on guard, for example. Knowing what is normal for your dog will be key to catching changes that might be pretty subtle. You’ll be much more likely to notice nonverbal dog communication.

nonverbal dog communication

Stance or body position

Here’s an example. Our malinois mix, Lincoln, is usually a pretty mellow guy when he hangs around the house. He has a thing about cats, however. I can watch his posture go from calm to on guard, and I instantly know he has spotted a cat. I have maybe a second to respond, usually. If I catch that window, I might be able to call him off. Because he signals what he’s going to do, I have a chance to respond.

Your dog may do things like standing or lying in an awkward or unusual position to try to relieve their discomfort. They might cower or tuck their tail if they are scared or nervous. Maybe they’re super relaxed and sprawl out with tummy up for a rub. These are all messages from body positions that make up nonverbal dog communication.


Lincoln also has hip dysplasia in one hip and something wonky with his back and neck. When he’s pain-free, he gets along with his canine siblings pretty well. There are no arguments, growls, etc. However, when he hurts, he grumbles about any potential infringement on his space. The pain makes him irritable.

nonverbal dog communication

How noticing nonverbal dog communication can help you help your dog

If you pay attention to the clues, you can take action on what your dog is telling you. If they have pain, you can help relieve it. When they’re happy, you can enjoy it. If something has them scared or nervous, you can take steps to ease your dog’s fear.

I consider my dogs to be family members. As part of the family, they have something to say, even though it’s not in words.

Nonverbal dog communication in the form of changes in behavior or interactions between individuals contributes to my understanding of my dogs and their needs. It gives me a head start at preventing issues from coming up and helps my dogs live more comfortably and happily.

How do your dogs talk to you? Tell me about it in the comments below. For more about nonverbal dog communication, read this great post from Tufts University or my post Do dogs understand us?

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