Understanding how dogs communicate is paramount in the human–dog relationship. Without this knowledge, dog owners will consistently misinterpret their dog’s behaviour and consequently send confusing signals to them. This can lead to a stressed dog, as it doesn’t fully understand what its owner wants of it. The best place to learn about canine communication and behaviour is observing dogs in the park or at a training school.
When a dog first sights another its posture will change. Its ears will prick up and forward, the stance will be upright, its hackles may be raised (sign of caution) and it may even have one paw lifted as though it is pointing. The dog’s facial expression may be one of open mouth with tongue out (almost like a smile) and the dog may be eyeballing the other dog. Also, the position of the tail may be erect and wagging (happy & confident) or stiff & rigid (bold and aggressive). As another dog approaches, you may see a change in this posture. The tail may drop (unsure or timid), the ears may flatten out (defensive or submission), the facial expression may change to a closed mouth with a ripple in the lips (fear grin) and it may look away rather than at the dog (submissive act). Moreover, the dog may change its stance to a lowered submissive posture. If this is the case it is accepting the other dog approaching as the more dominant of the two. Essentially the dogs are sizing each other up.
Dogs will also solicit play from each other by bowing down at the front with hindquarters (bottom) raised and tail up and wagging. Apart from the dog’s body-language it also vocalises. You may have noticed that you’re own dog barks in a high pitch when excited but also barks in a low tone as warning when someone comes to the front door. The high tone signifies a happy dog whereas a deep bark or growl is a sign of aggression. Dogs also howl, yelp and whine. As you can see, dogs do have a vast array of communication skills.
How does this relate to humans? If you think about it, we communicate in exactly the same way minus the tail bit. So next time you are calling Butch or Jess whilst standing in a stiff and rigid manner, because you’re annoyed that they aren’t coming and you’re growling “COME HERE”, take a look at yourself in the mirror and then you’ll understand exactly why your dog is running away from you.