Oftentimes, dog owners feel that no one is able to understand them like their dog does. But when it comes to understanding our dogs back, do we really know what they’re trying to communicate?
From the more nuanced actions to the some of the most commonly misunderstood behaviors, check out this list to see if you understand your fur baby just as much as it understands you.
1. Circling Before Lying Down
Dogs love running in circles when they are full of energy – from chasing their own tails to the constant back-and-forth during a raucous game of fetch. So why is it that dogs also walk in circles when they are about to lie down for a nap?
The answer is likely traced back to their evolution from their closest relatives, wolves. Oftentimes, wolves will circle before lying down in order to create a more flattened bed for themselves out in the wild. Despite the fact that we assume your living room isn’t covered in leaves and dirt, apparently the habit has just stuck over the years.
2. Head Tilting
Sometimes, it seems like our dogs imitate us. And speaking to a dog is no exception, as it sometimes leads to our furry friends demonstrating what we interpret as a human-like response. Humans usually tilt their heads to show confusion, as if they are trying to solve a problem. When it comes to dogs, the reason for those heart-melting head tilts is pretty similar.
Researchers have found that dogs that tilt their heads are highly attuned to different sounds. Their gentle tilt is their way of trying to figure out if you’re saying some of their buzzwords like “treat” or “walk.” Researchers also say that dogs that tilt their heads more frequently are, oftentimes, smarter.
3. Playing Fetch
Playing fetch with your dog is the gift that keeps on giving. You get to stand in place and just throw a ball repeatedly, and you also get to reap the benefits of having a nap-ready puppy afterwards. But while you might be having a good time, your dog might not always feel the same way.
If you see your dog carrying a toy, your first assumption might be that they are looking to play a round of fetch. But that might not be true. Sometimes, if a dog approaches you with a toy, it doesn’t mean they want it thrown. They actually want the opposite. They want you to give you the toy so you can play too! Seriously, what did we do to deserve these little angels?!
4. Tongue Flicking
Have you ever noticed that your dog will sometimes approach you and flick its tongue out of its mouth? Have you ever noticed that they tend to do this more after they have done something particularly bad? Well, there is definitely a reason for that.
Flicking its tongue is a dog’s way of giving you a very heartfelt, and cute, apology. Seeing this type of behavior from your dog is at least a little bit of comfort, as you can tell that they know that they have done something bad. And sometimes we can all use just a little bit of comfort after finding that our furry baby had an accident on the floor.
5. Watching You Leave
Most of us would rather ditch all of our plans and hang out with our dog all day. But, for those dog owners who do need to leave the house on occasion, they’ve probably noticed that when the time comes to leave, many dogs will just sit down and stare at their exiting owners.
It might seem like they’re angry at you for leaving, but this common dog behavior is actually a sign that they’re trusting of the the subject of their gaze, and they know they’re coming back. They aren’t freaking out about you going, because they know they will see you soon. And we like to think maybe they’re just getting ready to cause some mischief while you’re gone.
6. The Truth About Yawning
Dog yawns are probably just about the cutest things ever. And for puppies, a yawn indicates – like it does for just about everyone else – that they are a little bit sleepy. But for adult dogs, yawning does not actually have anything to do with taking a nap.
Instead, when an adult dog yawns, it’s often a demonstration of how comfortable he or she feels around you. Yawning is a submissive behavior in a dog’s mind. This means that when they yawn, they are showing some vulnerability and they are allowing you to witness it. Yawns may not always indicate that a dog is tired, but we’ll never get tired of how cute they are!
7. Meaning Behind The Leaning
It is not uncommon for dog owners to feel the unmistakable weight of their pup leaning against their legs while halted at a crosswalk or during a quick break on bench. But while humans might be used to this common canine behavior, oftentimes the meaning behind it is misunderstood.
No, just because your dog leans on you does not mean that they are tired, scared, or trying to show dominance. Instead, it can mean quite the opposite. A lean is actually pretty equivalent to a hug from your furry friend. It is a gesture that shows how much they love you. So the next time you feel a dog’s weight against your leg, lean with it!
8. Puppy Eyes
Dogs have a special knack for knowing just when to flash their irresistible puppy eyes. They are so good at it, in fact, that people even mimic the puppy eyed look when trying to convince another party of adhering to their often pesky requests. But when dogs throw you the puppy eyes, they are not actually begging.
In fact, puppy eyes are just a dog’s way of showing you they love you. They are not asking for anything but love! You know the way you look at your dog and think to yourself “Wow, I just love you so much I don’t even know what to do about it”? Well, when your dog gives you puppy eyes just know that they feel the exact same way about you.
9. Ear Flicking
When dogs flick their ears, it is commonly misunderstood by humans to be a sign that maybe their fur baby is not listening, having a spasm or maybe they are trying to ward of a pesky fly. But none of those are the real explanations for why dogs are so prone to flicking their ears.
Doggy ear flicks are actually a great indicator that your dog is listening. This is especially true if they are hearing a new sound, anything from a new type of bird to a siren. In fact, many animals, such as cats and rabbits, actually demonstrate this activity as well. So if you think this subtle dog behavior is weird, know that it is actually the humans who are left out.
10. Chewing Furniture (And Just About Anything Else)
Many dog owners know the frustrating feeling of coming home – or even coming from the room next door – and finding that their dog has used furniture (or clothing, or paper products, or really anything within reach) as their own chew toy. Depending on the owner’s taste in furniture, that could be a very expensive chew toy. But owners are not the only ones feeling frustrated.
A dog that constantly chews on furniture is trying to communicate that they are full of energy, and need a way to release all that pent up puppy playfulness. An easy fix for a bad chewing habit is to spend more time at the dog park, or encourage more playtime.
11. Cuddling After Meals
We have all been there. Just as you finish eating a big meal, all of the energy seems to run out of you, and you cannot seem to find a bed to lie down on fast enough. For dogs, the feeling is mutual. If your dog comes and cuddles you after eating, first, give yourself a pat on the back because you are definitely your dog’s favorite human.
After eating, dogs also seek to find comfort. So if you become the post-snack cuddle buddy, know you are a huge source of comfort for your pup. But watch out! If your dog does this too often you may want to check what you’re feeding them, not just because food should give them energy, but also because you don’t want to have to deal with any rather unpleasant scents.
12. Hidden Meaning of Howls
As the distant ancestors of wolves, it is no surprise that dogs have continued the (sometimes maybe slightly annoying) tradition of howling. But while wolves use howling as a way to communicate or assert ownership over a piece of land, for dog’s the explanation is a little different.
When a dog is howling, it is basically having all “the feels.” Just like it is helpful for us humans to get in a good cry, or scream, once in a while when you are alone and frustrated, dogs howl most of the time just because it feels good. Instead of keeping it bottled inside, a howl is just a release of all that pent up pooch energy.
13. The Eyes Have It
One of the most common misconceptions about truly getting into the mind of a dog is to look at its tail. And it is true, tail movement can tell you a lot about the mood of any dog or puppy. But if you really want to know what man’s best friend is thinking, look elsewhere.
Like humans, you can tell a lot about what a dog is feeling based on their eyes. The rules work a lot like human eyes do too. If the dog is excited, their eyes will look huge and will dart in all sorts of directions. When they’re sad, dogs will direct their gaze toward the ground and their eyes will get a little smaller.
14. Going Belly Up
For many humans, you better not even think about touching our bellies. For dogs, there is nothing better than when a human indulges them with a nice underside scratch down. But dogs are saying much more when they go belly up in front of you.
When a dog ends up exposing his or her stomach to a human, they are indicating to their human friend that they have the highest level of trust and respect for you. With this common dog behavior, they’re being submissive and playful. An added fun fact: When a house cat shows its stomach it’s also showing a level of trust, but petting that exposed belly is still a no-no, and breaks their trust.
15. Tales of the Tail
Everyone knows what it means when a dog’s tail wags frantically like a furry pendulum. They are expressing how happy they are! But knowing the meanings behind some other tail movements could be helpful, especially when your dog is meeting other four legged friends.
When a dog’s tail sticks straight upward, it can indicate another sign of excitement, but not necessarily one happiness. But if your dog is meeting a new friend and its tail is a little shaky, make sure to keep an eye on them. This tail movement is canine demonstration that they are expecting a little push back from their new acquaintance, and you should, too.
16. The Perpetual Pooch Pant
After running around the dog park or even taking a stroll around your neighborhood, you’re likely to notice your dog panting. Like many humans, you may assume that this habitual dog behavior means they are out of breath. But think again.
Panting is a dog’s way of cooling itself down. The behavior does not necessarily mean it’s out of breath, it could just means that it’s running a bit hot. Because dogs do not sweat, panting is really their only natural cooling mechanism. That is why you may notice that on a hot day, your dog might just start panting out of the blue, even without going out for a walk.
17. Yawning in Public
Oddly enough, dogs exhibit different behaviors when they are relaxing inside their home than they do in the outside world, where they are surrounded by the buzz of new sights and smells. For example, yawning in private is an expression of feeling totally comfortable, while yawning in public means something completely different.
If you see your dog constantly yawning in public, it means they are not very comfortable in whatever situation they are in. Their discomfort might be an indication that they are in a new place, or having a new experience. It is nothing to be too concerned about, but during these moments a little reassurance can go a long way.
18. Lying At Your Feet
Sometimes, our four legged friends make it very clear that they want their owners to move their feet and take them on a walk. And sometimes they just plop right down on our feet for a nap so that you can’t even move. Ever wonder why they pick such an inconvenient spot to rest?
Dogs often rest at your feet as a sign of protection. They just want to make sure that they keep a watchful eye on their humans even when they are asleep. Because they are doing this out of concern, if you decide to get up and move, they are totally fine with it. They just love you and want what is best for you, what more could you ask for?
19. The Many Meanings of Barks
Being a dog parent can sometimes feel like being an actual parent to a baby. Just like a human baby’s cries can mean a variety of different things, and indicate a ton of different wants and needs, a dog’s barks are not exactly straight forward either.
Depending on the situation, the sound of the bark, and what it is barking at, this popularly imitated dog behavior can actually hold various meaning. Short, soft barks might your pup just wants to play or is seeking a little attention. Loud, rapid barks can serve as a sign of aggression, or possibly pain.
20. Following Into The Bathroom
Ever wonder why your pooch follows you into the bathroom? While your dogs might come across as stage five clingers and privacy may feel like a thing of the past, there’s actually a reason they want to sneak a peek at what you’re getting up to behind closed doors.
Turns out a dog’s need to follow his owner into a bathroom all comes down to the animal’s wolf ancestry, and we know that wolves like to stick together in packs! One thing you should watch out for is if your dog follows you incessantly and absolutely everywhere – that could mean he thinks his owner needs to be guarded at all times, or the four-legged friend is really insecure and needy. Consult a veterinarian if you notice anything concerning.
21. Taking A Bow
They don’t call the popular yoga pose “downward dog” for nothing. Bowing – the position a dog takes when they straighten their front legs and angle their backs upward toward the rear – is a common position for dogs that may look like they’re ready to pounce. But the meaning behind a dog’s bow is much less intimidating.
Dog trainers often refer to this movement as a “play bow.” That is because when a dog bows, it means the pup just wants to play. The behavior often indicates that a canine is trying to encourage its human or dog friends to play along with them. Add a wagging tail, and you’ve got yourself a dog desperate for a little fun.
22. Standing With One Paw Up
It might look like a dog is about to dart off for a run or gearing up to get out some of the “zoomies,” but when you see a dog raise up one of its front legs it has a whole other meaning.
This head-scratching behavior actually means that your dog is playing a little game of detective. Raising one leg somehow helps a dog focus on solving challenges, much like humans will raise an eyebrow or furrow their brows. Combined with a whole lot of sniffing and looking in all different directions, a raised paw might just be that little push your dog needs to figure out what they’re smelling, and where.
23. Sleeping In Your Bed
It is the first thing that many dog owners teach their dogs is not to jump up on the bed. Whether or not you let your dog sleep on your bed is a point of personal preference. While some owners choose to sacrifice space in their bed and put up with a little dog hair just for the opportunity to get to wake up next to their ‘lil nugget, the action actually has similar meaning for doggos.
A dog’s desire to sleep in bed with a human is often mistaken as a sign of over attachment to their human companion, but that is not the case. A dog can have a perfectly healthy level of attachment and still just want to sleep next to you. There’s no higher sign of affection than for a dog to park itself beside you, snuggle up and sleep.
24. Sniffing The Air
Anyone who has seen two or more dogs cross paths know that the entire process of dogs getting to know each other involves a lot of sniffing. Not to mention, it involves a lot of sniffing in what we’d consider awkward places. But when a dog sniffs the air, it is trying to get to know something else entirely.
Dogs demonstrate this behavior when they’re picking up on ancestral hunting techniques inherited from their wolf predecessors. Dogs don’t usually bark or growl or make any noise at all when they’re sniffing around (besides the cute sniffing sound, of course). Instead, they are picking up the scent of a squirrel or some other animal it would love to chase.
25. The Two-Legged Tackle
As soon as you open the door to a house with an over eager dog, you know to brace yourself. That’s because a peppy puppy is probably barreling in your direction, ready to jump all over you. So why do dogs so often engage in this type of in-your-face behavior?
Tackling is not a desperate plea for attention or a way to annoy you as soon as you enter the door. Instead, it is the dog’s way of saying they love you. Like many other behaviors, this action is all about showing love. What can we say? Dogs just love to love!
26. Wrinkling Their Snouts
A common theme with seemingly every single dog behavior is that each different action is a way to show someone care and affection. Well, that general rule does not apply in this case. When a dog wrinkles its snout, it is definitely not in a loving mood.
Make no mistake about it, a rumpled muzzle means nothing good. The action is meant to warn that the dog is not happy, and you should probably take a few steps back. Don’t be fooled by all the puppy love, dogs are animals at the end of the day, and they know how to defend themselves.
27. Sleep Twitching
No, your dog isn’t having a seizure while they sleep. They’re twitching because they’re dreaming! That’s right; dogs dream the same way humans do. They might be dreaming about chasing some neighbor cats, finding the beautiful dog of their dreams, or running through the park with their beloved master, aka, you!
Whatever your dog is dreaming about, you’ll likely notice their paws twitching or running if they’re lying on their backs. They might even make a sound or two, depending on the dream.
28. Burying Dem Bones
Dogs often take precious objects, like rawhide bones, and bury them in convenient locations outside. You might have noticed a shoe or other things going missing around your house, only to find them buried in shallow graves in the backyard.
While it can be annoying to lose things, know that your dog is actually just trying to keep them safe. In the wild, animals often bury stuff they want to keep so that other animals won’t make off with those items while the dog is away. Rover just wants to make sure no one takes your favorite sock!
29. The Classic Butt Sniff
Yeah, this is a weird one for people to see. We usually just roll our eyes at our canine friends, but dogs are actually learning a lot about their new pal by sniffing their booty.
Dogs have very keen noses. They can learn a ton about another animal by getting a good sniff. Information like:
- Sex (although at such close range, your pooch can just see what’s happening down there)
- If the other animal is sick
- General mental state (certain emotions cause dogs to secrete specific hormones that can alert other dogs to their states of mind)
- What the dog recently ate
- And a lot more that we probably don’t even know about.
30. Sir Humps-a-lot
This behavior is primarily seen in male dogs, but some female dogs do this too. No, your dog isn’t trying to really mate with everything it sees. If it was just about having sex, then neutering your lusty pooch would have made those feelings go away. It’s actually a show of happiness among canines.
It’s always embarrassing when your dog starts humping your friend’s leg, but they’re likely overstimulated and have no other way of showing it. As you’ve probably noticed, dogs love playing and can get excited quickly. If you’re romping around, there’s a good chance your dog will turn to humping to express themselves.
31. Eating Excrement
This one is super gross, but you might have seen your dog sampling some poop outside or from the cat’s litter box. Unlike humans, dogs can consume feces without becoming sick. The reason is that back when dogs still listened to the call of the wild, mother dogs needed a way to protect her puppies.
To deter other animals from finding the mom and babies, she would consume the babies’ excretions so that they could hide away, undetected. It’s still really disgusting, though.
32. Gotta Catch My Tail!
It’s always hilarious to watch a dog chase its tail, but there isn’t always a singular reason why it happens. Many dogs are simply having fun! Dogs love running and chasing something, so when you’ve got a necktie on your butt, why not try and catch it sometimes?
Some dogs have an obsessive compulsion to catch their tails, which can signal some neurological issues. If your dog consistently can’t be distracted from its tail by another toy or a treat, you should talk to your vet about the issue.
33. Rolling in the Stink
Oh no! Is your pup rolling in the trash again? No matter how cute your doggo might be, they are still wild animals, and animals love to roll around where it stinks.
Scientists haven’t settled on one specific reason for this behavior, but they have a few theories:
- It could be to disguise the dog’s scent so they can sneak up on prey
- It could help a dog smell like itself after you just gave them a bath
- Oily garbage, or decaying creatures, can soften and nourish their doggy coats
34. I’ll Take That To Go
Plenty of dogs pick up their food and take it somewhere other than the bowl to consume. It can be a little disconcerting to watch your dog take a large mound of food to another room and drop it all over the floor – especially when it’s wet food.
Many believe it’s an ancient instinct to take food away from the source (which used to be the hunted prey) so the dog wouldn’t be interrupted by other predators while they were eating.
35. A Salad for Dogs?
Some dogs like to eat grass. Hopefully your pooch doesn’t do it all the time, because dogs have a hard time digesting grass, and it makes them gassy (unfortunately for you!) However, it may not be the grass that’s causing the gas in the first place.
Dogs often seek out grass when they’re already not feeling well. Dogs will eat a ton of grass and then vomit it back up, presumably along with whatever else they’ve eaten that has given them an upset stomach. Just stay back if you see your pooch munching on the weeds!
36. Kicking the Air
Everyone loves a good belly rub, right? And you’ve probably seen how there’s that one spot where you can rub, and your dog will start to kick the air rapidly. That’s actually a reflex! It’s like when the doctors thump your knee, and your leg kicks out.
Dogs can’t control their air kicking when you scratch them in all the right places, so don’t think that your dog is trying to push you away. In fact, they never want you to stop!
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