How Do Dogs Communicate With Each Other? Actions Speak Louder Than Woofs

When humans consider the ways dogs communicate with one with each other, vocal sounds such as shouting and growling seem to be the top choice, even though they only represent the tiniest portion of the dog’s vast repertoire. This is due to an incorrect focus on the inherent traits of our species, according to Melissa McMath Hatfield, MS, CBCC, CDBC the proprietor of Loving Dogs in Fayetteville, Ark. While communication via words is the dominant method for human beings but body language and scent signals often “speak louder” with our furry companions.

Although dogs are skilled in understanding human nonverbal behavior However humans aren’t quite as adept in interpreting their dogs’ behavior, Hatfield says.

“This is the place where the confusion between the two species may result in conflict and possibly injury to the dog, if it’s not physical, surely to their mental state. The more we learn about the way our dogs interact with us as well as with one another and with each other, the more enjoyable our relationship with them and our lives will get.”

To achieve this goal we’ve asked Hatfield’s assistance to get over our biases in words.

Context is Important

Before we get to the substance, Hatfield says we must be aware of the importance of the communication’s context. “All communication must be seen in relation to its context (i.e. the setting that it’s happening in),” she continues, “regardless of whether it’s human-to-human, dog-to-human, or dog-to-dog. For instance, an animal that is bounding to greet its owner with a waving tail is showing a proper manner of greeting. However, we would not wish for a puppy to be exuberantly at a newborn in the same manner.”

That is to say, the behavior that’s acceptable and even adorable in one setting could be dangerous and inappropriate in another (like eye rolling when your mom warns that you shouldn’t touch the plate filled with chocolate chips, vs. when she tells you not to touch the scorching stove).

In the same way, as communication isn’t able to be removed from its physical surroundings and vice versa, it’s not always beneficial to separate and study one communication action (like barking) from its preceding and following actions. Knowing what precedes and follows that bark, whether it’s the playful wave of the tail or the fearsome raised hackles, is crucial to comprehend the bigger picture.

How do dogs communicate with One Another?

shallow focus photo of dogs on tree log

If dogs are communicating with each other, Hatfield says they put their senses to work. “Dogs make use of scent, sight, and sound to communicate with one another in order to communicate],” she explains. “The combination and the context of these sends a specific message.”


Humans are able to communicate via smell. For instance, you can likely tell if your teenage sister washed after a soccer practice, without explicitly not asking or even watching them. But, dog noses are quite different. Hatfield says that dogs have more than 300 million olfactory sensory receptors within their noses (humans only have six million) which results in the sense of smell which has believed as being 10 to 100 times more powerful than noses.

Dogs can use amazing sniffers in a variety of impressive (and often embarrassing) ways in the name of communicating. Have you ever thought about the reason your dog is able to smell the hind end of other dogs? Hatfield suggests it could be due to the distinctive smell released by dogs’ anal glands (two small sacs in the rectum) providing information about the health of the pup, his sexual activity, diet social status, and even mood. “Dogs are able to detect the pheromones and adrenaline, which could help them identify if the dog they are with is friend or foe, and decide if they should engage in a fight, play or flee.”

Sound and Sound

The ability to detect the dog’s pheromones could be beyond your capabilities however, your ears and eyes are able to discern how dogs use their vocalizations (barking or whining, growling) as well as body language (posture eye, ear, and head position and the eye) for communication with their companions. Both must be considered in conjunction because it’s all about the context!

“A dog’s behavior can be an indication of the state of mind (internal) state of mind,” Hatfield explains, “so it’s crucial to pay careful focus on how your dog is communicating with one another, or to you.”

What are Dogs trying to tell us?

The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine located at Tufts University breaks down canine communication into five main categories that include: calm and aroused, fearful, nervous, and aggressive. Below, we’ll discuss the way dogs from these categories appear (and occasionally and sometimes sound).

Signs of a calm and relaxed dog include a reclining and a relaxed body posture and a relaxed, relaxed mouth that is open to the point that it appears to be it’s a gentle smile. Their ears are at a neutral angle, and their tails could be waving. Oh, how wonderful to be carefree!


The arousal or excitement may occur due to something that the dog is fond of (such as a dog friend) or dislikes (such as a canine enemy), Tufts explains. In the event that the stimulation is favorable, the pet could exhibit attention-seeking behavior, sometimes referred to as appeasement behaviors, which include jumping or playing bowing or tail wagging, kissing, nuzzling, barking, or pawing. When the stimuli are not positive, Tufts observes that the dog’s behavior can also indicate signs of aggression, fear, or even anxiety (more about that later). Other indicators of arousal are the body’s posture being erect with ears firmly closed and a tail that might be moving or piloerection (also called raised hackles) and large-eyed, focused eyes.


Dogs that are afraid of people will usually display an attitude of submissiveness, Hatfield states. In the case of dog-to-dog communication, a dog that is submissive will usually “carry his tail with their legs while their ears are returned, and their body will be lower, occasionally exposed to the underside. They also tilt their head away from eyes,” Hatfield explains.

It is not surprising, Tufts notes that fear can rapidly turn to aggression if the stimulus persists or becomes increasingly perilous.


anxiety is an emotion similar to fear, however, there’s no specific trigger. When a dog is anxious, it shows signs because the dog anticipates rather than experiencing the threat. For example, the dog might be scared when confronted by an aggressive dog in the park. Dogs who are anxious could exhibit similar signs in the park later on (another good example of how the context is crucial). Some signs of stress are excessive panting, pacing dropping, and drooling.


Hatfield claims that, for dogs, aggression can be a defensive strategy (though she explains that there are instances of direct attack). “The dog’s purpose is to defuse the situation by creating a distance between them from the threat they perceive,” she says. “They achieve this by trying to frighten the enemy away.”

The indications for aggression among dogs comprise actions that cause dogs to appear bigger, like tension in the body with the weight of the body moved forward, with raised hands. Also, there are behaviors that can make them appear scary, such as making teeth visible, making direct eye contact, snarling, or barking.

Hatfield says that in nearly every situation when a dog fights an animal, the dog that was at fault offered a nonverbal warning that was either missed or misinterpreted by the person who was attacked. “This is why understanding body language for dogs is essential,” she adds. “Not every tail wag indicates the happiness of a dog. If they’re standing straight with their back leaning inward, while their tail’s being stiff and high be wary!”

In the end, being aware of possible aggressor triggers is useful in preventing them. Aggression is usually linked to pain, fear territorial instincts, and resource protection.

If you observe your dog acting aggressively toward the other dog (or towards you) or if you notice any other behavior that leads you to be concerned take note of the behavior with your veterinarian team. Also, you might want to consider consulting with an accredited dog behavior specialist. The art of understanding dog behavior isn’t easy and therefore don’t be afraid to contact the experts.

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