Many humans often expect dogs to act like humans. They talk to dogs like they talk to people, project similar energy as they do to people, and wait for dogs to respond in kind. However, dogs are not humans. They are pack animals. That means they respond to the language of the pack. In practice this means that humans need to learn to communicate without words. The first step in doing this is learning to read their dogs’ body language.
A dog communicates first by his energy. There is no need to second guess what your dog means, because his energy communicates his emotions and intention. You can see this when a dog play bows toward another dog. The dog moves forward, but the front of the dog’s body is lower to the ground. Although the intention, the forward motion, is excited, the low body is friendly. That means his energy is meant to be playful, not aggressive.
This is where it gets tricky for humans, because similar dog behaviors can be used to convey different things. A happy and excited dog and an aggressive dog both move forward, but one is only playing, while the other means to be threatening. A dog can also run away in fear, or just to signal he wants a game of chase.
Start paying attention to your dog’s body language, especially the head, ears, tail, and back. The higher these parts are, the more dominant a dog is feeling. But when the parts are lower, the dog is signaling she feels submissive or uncertain. Also monitor the body for tension, especially in the back and legs. That tension signals high energy.
You should practice monitoring the dog’s energy so that you do not start misinterpreting their actual intentions. Think about some common experiences you may have witnessed between dogs and humans. Many people are fearful when a dog shows its teeth, however, close and trained dog observers know that if the teeth are together and the ears are pulled back along the head, the dog means to show submission. Other signs of submission in that stance are eyes squinting and body leaning away and lower.
These lessons come in handy when you are in a situation that could be risky. For example, if a dog is charging at you, it is not necessarily planning an attack. If the body is relaxed, with the tail level and wagging, then the dog is just excited. This is true especially if you notice the lack of tension in the dog’s body.
Dogs don’t really wish they could talk. That’s because dog body language is very effective at communicating exactly what dogs want to say. We just need to be astute observers of animals so that we can receive the messages they are meaning to convey. Dogs area always communicating with body language. Once you start realizing the depth of dogs’ communication skills, you will find yourself with better and more confident relationships with dogs.