Body Language and Vocals

Training your dog seems like a daunting task, but it is a unique and rewarding experience. It is the foundation of a healthy and long relationship with your new dog or puppy. You must be the one in charge of the relationship and lead with the pack leader mentality, all the while showing patience and love. 

Without a doubt, it is nice to have an obedient friend by your side through good times and bad. Owning a dog is a relationship that needs tending throughout the years. Once you begin training, it will continue throughout the life of your dog and friend. An obedient dog is easier to care for and causes less household problems and expense. You know what needs to be done, but what about your dog. How do you read his messages in regards to what you are attempting to accomplish? I am going to cover dog’s body language and vocal language to provide insight into what it is your dog is trying to tell you. This should prove to be an asset while training your dog.

Remember that we cannot always read a dog’s body language accurately. All dogs have their own unique personality; therefore will express themselves in their individual way. It is possible that a dog’s happy wagging tail could be another dog’s way of conveying that it is nervous or anxious. Keep in in your thoughts when reading a dog’s body language that it is difficult to be 100% accurate interpreting and to use caution around strange dogs.

Body Language:

What is body language? Body language is all of the non-verbal communication we exhibit when engaged into an exchange with another entity. Say what? All of those little tics, spasms, and movements that we act out comprise of non-verbal body language. Studies state that over 50% of how people judge us is based on our use of body language. Apparently, the visual interpretation of our message is equal to our verbal message. It is interesting how some studies have indicated that when the body language disagrees with the verbal, our verbal message accounts for as little as 7-10% of how the others judge us. With that kind of statistic, I would say that body language is extremely important.

Similar to humans, dogs use their bodies to communicate. Their hearing and seeing senses are especially acute. Observe how your dog tilts his head, moves his legs, and what is his tail doing while you are engaged. Is the tail up, down, or wagging? These body movements are all part of the message your dog is trying to convey. With this knowledge, I think it is safe to say that we should learn a little about human and dog body language. In this article, I will stick to a dog’s body language and leave the human investigation up to you. What do you think my posture is right now?

The Tail:

The tail is a wagging and this means the dog is friendly, or maybe not. With most dogs that have tails it can convey many messages, some nice, some nasty. Specialists say a dog’s wagging tail can mean the dog is scared, confused, preparing to fight, confident, concentrating, interested, or happy. Some dogs have curly spitz type tails and therefore it will take a keen eye to see and denote what their tail position might be conveying so you will have to rely more on facial and body postures. Breeds with docked tails, flat faces, and that are black in color make it more difficult to read what they are trying express. From distance black colored dogs facial expressions can be difficult to see. Creating further difficulties are breeds that have puffy hair, long hair, or extensive hair that hides their physical features.

How do you tell the difference? Look at the speed and range of motion in the tail. The wide-fast tail wag is usually the message of “Hey, I am so happy to see you!” wag. The tail that is not tight between the hind legs, but instead is sticking straight back horizontally means the dog is curious but unsure, and probably not going to bite but remain in a place of neutral affection. This dog will probably not be confrontational, yet the verdict is not in. The slow tail wag means the same; the dog’s friendly meter is gauging the other as friend or foe.

The tail held high and stiff, or bristling (hair raised) is a WATCH OUT! – Red Flag warning for humans to be cautious. This dog may not only be aggressive, but dangerous and ready to rumble. If you come across this dog, it is time to calculate your retreat and escape plan.

Not only should the speed and range of the wag be recognized while you are reading doggie body language, one must also take note of the tail position. A dog that is carrying its tail erect is a self-assured dog in control of itself. On the flip side of that, the dog with their tail between their legs, tucked in tight is the, “I surrender man, I surrender, please don’t hurt me” posture.

The chill dog, a la Reggae special is the dog that has her tail lowered but not tucked in-between her legs. The tail that is down and relaxed in a neutral position states, the dog is relaxed.

While training your dog or simply playing, it is a good idea to take note of what his or her tail is doing and determine if your dog’s tail posture is matching their moods. Your understanding of your dog’s tail movements and body posture will be of great assistance throughout its lifetime.

Up Front:

On the front end of the dog is the head and ears with their special motions. A dog that cocks his head or twitches her ears is giving the signal of interest and awareness, but sometimes it can indicate fear. The forward or ear up movements can show a dog’s awareness of seeing or hearing something new. Due to the amazingly acute canine sense of hearing, this can occur long before we are aware. These senses are two of the assets that make dogs so special and that make them fantastic guard and watchdogs.

“I give in, and will take my punishment” is conveyed with the head down and ears back. Take note of this submissive posture, observe the neck, and back fur for bristling. Sometimes this accompanies this posture. Even though a dog is giving off this submissive stance, it should be approached with caution because it may feel threatened and launch an offensive attack thinking he needs to defend himself.

“Smile, you are on camera.” Yep, you got it, dogs smile too. It is usually a subtle corner pull back to show the teeth. Do not confuse this with the obvious snarl that entails a raised upper lip and bared teeth, sometimes accompanied by a deep growling sound. The snarl is something to be extremely cautious of when encountered. A snarling dog is not joking around–the snarl is serious. This dog is ready to be physically aggressive.

The Whole Kit and Caboodle:

Using the entire body, a dog that rolls over onto its back and exposes his belly, neck, and genitals is conveying the message that you are in charge. A dog that is overly submissive sometimes urinates a small amount to express his obedience towards a human or another dog.

Front paws down, rear end up, tail is a waggin.’ This, “hut, hut, hut, C’mon Sparky hike the ball,” posture is the ole K-9 position of choice for, “Hey! It is playtime, and I am ready to go!” This posture is sometimes accompanied with a playful bark and or pawing of the ground in an attempt to draw you into his playful state. I love it when a dog is in this mood, albeit they can be aloof to commands.

Whines, Growls, Howls, Barks and Yelps. Sounds dogs make and we hear

We just had a look at the silent communication of body language. Now, I will look into the doggie noises we cherish, but sometimes find annoying. Just what is our dog trying to tell us? Our canine friends often use vocal expressions to get their needs met. Whines and growls mean what they say, so when training your dog, listen carefully. As you become accustomed to the dogs vocal communication, and are able to begin understanding them, the happier you will both become. Some dog noises can be annoying and keep you awake, or wake you up. This may need your attention, to be trained out as inappropriate vocalizations.


What does a dog bark say and why bark at all? Dogs bark to say “Hey, what’s up dude,” “I am hungry,” or “Look at me!” A bark may warn of trouble, or to convey that the dog is bored or lonely. I think we all know that stimulated and excited dogs also bark. It is up to us to survey the surroundings and assess the reason. We need to educate ourselves about our dog’s various barks so we can act appropriately.

Whining and Whimpering:

Almost from the time they are freshly made and feeding upon their mother’s milk, our little puppies begin to make their first little fur-ball noises. Whimpering or whining to get their mothers attention for feeding or comfort is innate, and as a result, they know mom will come to them. They also use these two W’s on us to gain our attention. Other reasons for whimpering or whining are from fear produced by loud noises such as thunderstorms or fireworks. I think most of us have experienced the 4th of July phenomenon where the entire dog population is barking excessively until the wee hours of the morning when the last fireworks are ignited, and the final “BOOM!” dies off.


Growling means, you had better watch out. Be acutely aware of what this dog is doing or might do. Usually a dog that is growling is seriously irritated and preparing to be further aggressive. However, this is not always true, sometimes a dog will issue a growl requesting for petting to continue.


Picture the dark silhouette of a howling dog with a full moon backdrop. A dog’s howl is a distinct vocalization that most dogs use, and every wolf makes. Howling can mean loneliness, desire, warning, or excitement. A lonely howl is a dog looking for a response. Dogs also howl after a long hunt when they have tracked and cornered their prey. Some Scenthounds use a distinct sound named a bay.