No matter how Smart your dog is, she/he has a different way of looking at things and the world around them than you do. The important key to a happy life together is to learn to read your dog’s characteristics and become aware of how they interpret your world, in other words understanding Dog Language.
Leaders and Followers
In the Dog world, you are either a leader or a follower. It is a pack mentality that is naturally ingrained in their DNA. It comes from wolves that are the ancestors of today’s dogs.
Wolves rely on their leader for survival. Even if a wolf is not top dog, he is a link in the chain of command. Its the same with a dog. His instinct is to find out where he stands.
Most dogs are followers. They want to please their human pack so they can get plenty of positive attention. But dogs need a social structure with a leader and clear hierarchy. If no one takes the role of leader, your dog will fill the gap. He may display dominant behavior such as ignoring your commands or even threatening you.
How Dogs Communicate
Dog owners really like anthropomorphizing their canine friends. This is when human beings attribute human characteristics to animal species. Though it is proven that dogs experience things to varying degrees the same as humans do, there are major differences in how experiences are communicated. Dogs can exhibit loyalty, fear, sadness, grief, happiness, pleasure, pain and other things their human owners also experience, but the way it is communicated differs. Dogs learn to mimic behaviors to get a favorable response from humans, but they operate on instinct when it comes to communicating with other dogs.
The Importance of Scent in Dog Communication
Dogs can quickly ascertain many things about other dogs from scent. When dogs scratch the ground after defecating, they are not attempting to bury the scat. They are marking the ground with odors from scent glands in their paws. This action magnifies the scent along with excretions from the anal sacs that get deposited on the feces. A male dog marks out territory by urinating on objects along the perimeter of his territory. Other dogs can tell the sex of the dog that left the marking as well as its overall health. Female urine conveys information such as sex and being in estrus (heat).
Dogs that stop to smell trees, telephone poles, spots on the ground and other objects are gathering information about other dogs that have visited the spots. A dog that is adamant about smelling another dog’s left behind scat is not really interested in the feces but rather in learning about the dog that left it from the other odors left behind along with the scat. In the wild, a male dog would likely walk around a marked territory whereas a domesticated breed is usually inundated with markings up and down every street.
Body Language in Dog Communication
The position of the ears, hindquarters and tail are major body language indicators of what statements dogs are making. Dogs that roll over on their backs are submitting to what they consider higher members in the social order of a pack. This is the same for submissive urinating. It happens usually in conjunction with the rollover that exposes the belly (vital organs). Humans get upset when this occurs, which sends mixed signals to dogs who are indicating their submission to human authority.
The ears of dogs raise slightly and move toward sounds they are interested in. A dog with ears pulled back or up and forward may be showing signs of aggression or fear. The mouth and eyes are a helpful indicator when trying to ascertain what the ear position means. Dogs pull their lips back or may pucker (puff out) their lips when they begin to show aggression. A dog staring or looking directly at another dog or person out of the corner of its eyes is also a sign of aggression or fear. There is such a thing as a “submissive grin” where dogs show some teeth but are overall in a submissive posture. This is not aggression, and it may take an expert to recognize it subtleties.
Lowered hindquarters along with a tucked in tail are signs of submission or fear. A submissive dog will also lower its head, flatten its ears and avoid a direct gaze. Yawning or licking are also good signs of submission. Growling along with staring or looking sideways at another dog or person may be fear that leads to defensive aggression. Though there are many things that need to be interpreted together when it comes to dog tails, typically a sign of playfulness comes with a tail that is wagging with a lowered front end and possible dancing with front feet. Most often aggression and fear have accompanying signs of showing teeth, growling and aggressive ear position.
Dogs will use aggression to establish a social order among other pack members. This is usually not an issue among most dogs, but there are some that are offensively aggressive. A nip among dogs of equal size is not usually an issue in establishing hierarchy of social status, but it can be very serious when a dog does this with smaller dogs or with any human children it also considers its pack mates.