by Valerie Broadway

There’s no doubt, during recent times, many dogs have been thrilled to spend more time with their humans. For those of us who have spent more time than ever, lately, at home with our pets, we have been offered an opportunity to observe and learn more about them. Dogs are really tuned into their humans and pick up on the smallest body language cues and the meaning behind them. Let’s take a moment to learn about some of the things our dogs do and what they are trying to tell us. Dog conversations are mainly visual, using body language and eye contact, expressing how they feel in the moment. 

Like humans, dogs commonly experience anxiety. Sometimes they are anxious only in certain situations, like a visit to the vet, while others experience anxiety all the time. There are many ways dogs express anxiety; tails down, bulging eyes, lip licking, one front paw raised, trembling, drooling, whining, and more. In addition, dogs who are anxious all of the time can have a hard time being still. They are often not comfortable even in their own home. This results in a lot of pacing. They may even pee or poop inside the home if they feel too nervous out in the yard. On walks, the leash may twist on itself due to the continual spinning as they walk, or when dogs keep circling around the person holding the leash. If they are not circling, they will often either be pulling ahead or dragging behind.

Some things dogs do are indications that they are trying to take action to control their anxiety. When dogs repeatedly yawn or wet-dog body shake (like they just had a bath) they are trying to calm themselves. The yawn is taking in extra oxygen. The wet-dog shake is relaxing muscles. These things are equivalent to a person taking a deep breath or rolling their neck and shoulders to de-stress. These actions indicate the dogs recognize they need to calm down and they are making an effort to do so. 

Most dogs love attention from the people they know, and others will also beg for attention from anyone they meet. Looking dogs in the eyes is a major form of attention. To get this attention dogs will sometimes jump up on people. They are jumping towards the eyes. Simply not making eye contact can diffuse jumping with many dogs. Another thing dogs do when trying to get attention is to walk right in front of people and/or repeatedly stop in front of people as they walk. It’s a reminder that they are there and they don’t want the person to forget them.   

It’s not uncommon for dogs to try to control people. A clue that this is the case is when dogs don’t listen to commands, especially if they don’t come when called or won’t get off the furniture when told to. Another thing dogs do when expressing they are the leader is repeatedly stepping on people’s feet or rudely running into them, even knocking some people down. 

After the basics of food, water, and shelter, the next thing dogs need is adequate exercise. They must run, play, and have fun every day. If this need is not being met it is difficult for dogs to be content and respond well to training. When there is a lack of exercise dogs will create outlets for their pent up energy. These outlets include digging, barking too much, chewing inappropriate things, running away when they get the chance, jumping on people like crazy, and being too rough when they do get to play. Dogs who never get a chance to exercise sometimes develop frustration which can turn into aggression.

Sometimes dogs do things that could indicate a health issue. When dogs scoot on or overly lick their butt they may have intestinal parasites or impacted anal glands. When dogs scratch themselves more than occasionally there is likely a problem. Healthy dogs don’t scratch that often. The first things to suspect are external parasites, like fleas or mites. If parasites are not the issue then the next thing to consider is some sort of allergy. Foods and environmental causes, such as certain plants, are common allergens for pets. When animals are constantly scooting, licking, or scratching they are miserable and they need veterinary attention. 

Dogs who are in a stable, content mindset are able to be still and calm. When comfortable in their own skin they are open to being playful. Another sign that dogs feel safe and happy is when they roll on their backs wriggling back and forth. Most dogs won’t expose their stomachs this way if they feel threatened. Dogs in a good state of mind don’t overreact to new situations or people, and aren’t clingy or needy with the people they know. 

Some people think dogs are mindless beings, but nothing could be further from the truth. Dogs are quite sensitive and capable of a wide range of feelings. Through body language and behaviors they communicate anxiety, fear, dominance, adoration, excitement, frustration, and contentment. They can also be curious, silly, jealous, and uncertain, among many other things. 

For more information an online internet search can be performed by entering “dog body language.” There are a number of pages containing pictures explaining the meaning of dogs’ body language. With a little studying, and paying attention people can learn to decipher the language of dogs. Seemingly small movements can be big conversations in the dog world. Understanding more about what our dogs are communicating will certainly benefit the quality of our relationship with them. 

Valerie Broadway, the Canine Coach, is a dog trainer and behavioral specialist. For more information, call 919-542-4726 or visit