A dog looking back at the camera with a bunch of question marks behind it.

How Do Dogs Communicate With Us?

Dogs have been our loyal companions for centuries. Their special bond with humans is something that has endured throughout the ages. While we may not understand every bark or yip our furry friends make, it’s no secret that dogs communicate often. But how do dogs actually communicate with us?

Most of the time, dogs communicate with us through body language, vocalizations, and even physical touch. Dogs use their bodies and facial expressions to convey how they’re feeling. For example, a dog who is happy may wag its tail or lean into your hand when you pet it. Dogs also use vocalizations like barking, growling, and whining to express themselves. For example, growling is often used as an aggressive warning, while whining could indicate distress or anxiety. 

11 Common Ways Dogs Communicate With Us

Let’s start how dogs communicate with us with dogs wagging their tails.

Tail Wagging

In general, tail wagging is considered a positive signal from a dog and conveys that the dog is happy, but this is not completely true. Modern research tells us that the emotional state being communicated depends upon the direction, extent, and intensity of the tail wag. Here are some examples:

  • Broad and loose: It shows that dog is friendly and cannot wait to greet you.
  • Fast: It shows that dog is very excited and can’t wait to play and have fun.
  • Slow and incomplete: It shows that the dog is confused and does not know what to do.
  • Along the right side (right wag): It conveys positive stimulation, i.e., seeing its food.
  • Along the left side (left wag): It expresses a negative stimulation, i.e., seeing a strange dog.

Eye Contact

Normal eye contact for dogs with their owners doesn’t last more than a few seconds. Eye contact with your dog establishes a good relationship and confidence in it. However, the interpretation of eye contact varies in different situations. For example:

  • If your dog is staring at you and growling, it is conveying its aggressiveness and asking you to back off. 
  • If your dog comes to you and stares at you, it suggests your dog might need something and wants your help.
  • If your dog avoids eye contact, it means the dog has done something wrong and feels guilty about it. In some situations, it may also show the anxiety or submissiveness of your dog. It is often observed in rescue dogs.

Growling And Barking

Although barking and growling are considered a sign of alertness when the dog sees a threat, that is not always the case. There are different interpretations on the basis of bark/growl and their pitch.

3 to 4 rapid barks having small intervals MediumAlert call, undefined threat
ContinuousLowThreat is defined and the dog is ready to defend
Short and sharp barkMedium-lowMother controlling its puppies
Rapid barkingMediumAlarm bark
Short and sharp barkHigh Surprised or scared dog
A long series of barks separated by medium to long intervalsMedium-lowAn alone dog who is bored and need companionship
Rising barkMedium-lowIndicates dog is enjoying the play
Soft growlLowUsed by a dominant dog as a threat
Soft growlMediumDog signals the threat to stay away
Growl that leads to a barkLowGiving threat and calling his fellow dogs for assistance
Undulating growlGoes from higher to midDog is frightened and it may fight back or run away


Pacing is a stereotypical behavior in which the dog moves back and forth or in circles. This behavior shows:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Hunger
  • Boredom and inadequate exercise
  • Neurological problems
  • Underlying disease such as Cushing Syndrome
  • Dementia (in older dogs)
  • Heat (in females)


Licking behavior is a way for dogs to groom themselves and show affection. Mothers lick their puppies and lick each other to groom themselves. In adults, this behavior is limited to showing affection or getting attention. Moreover, other types of licking are also observed in dogs, such as:

  • A dog licking its lips is a positive signal and shows that the dog is calm
  • A dog licking its body or paws indicates that the dog is stressed
  • If a dog is licking you excessively, it is not normal and is a sign of distress, pain, and anxiety

Tongue Flicking

It is also known as nose licking. Dogs do it when they think that something is not right. They’re conveying their distress and that they are not happy with the current situation. These situations can be:

  • Seeing you stroke and love another dog
  • Getting less food as compared to the normal routine
  • A stranger trying to get close

Tongue flicking is not something one should take lightly. Tongue flicking may lead to biting in some cases if the uncomfortable situation isn’t resolved.

Sneezing And Yawning

Yawning is a positive signal in a dog’s vocabulary. If a dog yawns, it means it is trying to avoid a confrontation and show it is not a threat. Yawning also keeps the dog calm, and it is a sign of a friendly dog. Yawning may also convey that the dog is tired or under stress.

On the other hand, sneezing can be normal (play sneezing) or due to some illness or allergy. Here are some more details about dogs and sneezing: 

  • Sneezing is a body mechanism to clear the airways. It may happen when dogs inhale dust or allergic substances like pollen. Moreover, if sneezing occurs along with a runny nose, it can be a sign of a respiratory infection.
  • Play sneezing occurs when dogs are very happy and excited during the play. It is also a calming signal. Moreover, dogs do make fake sneezes to get the attention of their owners.

Exposing The Belly

Dogs expose their belly for two reasons:

  1. They are showing appeasing or submissive behavior. They want to inform you they are not a threat to you in any way. They are not going to harm you and they do not want confrontation with you. 
  2. They want a belly rub. Like humans, dogs also get itchy. So, a belly rub allows dogs to get their itches scratched. It also gives them scratches on their bellies which they cannot do themselves.

Play Bowing

You may have already seen this while playing with your canine friend. As the name suggests, play bowing is a posture in which dogs bow down which encourages their fellow dogs or humans to join in their play. It is one of the calming signals for dogs. 

In this gesture, the dog leans forward with its neck while keeping the hind legs in the normal standing position. It also wags its tail when play bowing.

Raising A Paw

Dogs may raise their paws for multiple reasons. This gesture shows that:

  • The dog is focused. This is seen in hunting breeds of dogs before a chase, for example.
  • The dog is anxious and suffering from stress.
  • The dog is just curious.
  • The dog wants your attention.

Leaning Against You

If your dog is leaning against you, it can be due to the following reasons:

  • The dog is afraid and is seeking refuge. Dogs are very social and they return to their pack mates (you) to feel secure. Being close to their loved ones gives them a sense of security and alleviates their nervousness and anxiety.
  • Dogs are highly social animals. In packs, they depend on each other and don’t hesitate to show their affection to each other. They cuddle up and lean against each other. In this case, you are a packmate of your dog. So, your dog will lean against you.

If you want to know whether your dog is frightened or just needs affection, you have to read the body language of your canine fellow, which I will discuss now.

How To Read Dogs’ Body Language

A dog sitting beside its owner who is standing up, and the dog is looking up at its owner.
That’s a good dog!

As compared to humans, who rely heavily on vocal communication, dogs don’t do that. They make excellent use of their bodies to convey their thoughts. This is known as the body language of the dog, and it is the same in most dogs. 

The body language of a dog may include facial expressions, posture, and movement of the body or tail.

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions in dogs tell a lot about their mood. Some of the most common dog facial expressions are the following:

  • A smiling dog coveys a happy and friendly dog.
  • A head tilt tells us that the dog is curious.
  • A dog blinking its eyes while looking at you is trying to understand a situation or interaction.
  • A dog raising its eyebrows shows that the dog is attentive and taking interest.
  • A yawning dog shows that it is tired or just trying to avoid confrontation.
  • If a dog is growling and showing its teeth, it’s a warning signal.
  • A dog lowering its head and looking toward you is showing submissiveness or appeasement.
  • A dog avoiding eye contact shows that the dog is anxious or fearful

Posture And Movement

The dog’s posture and movement explain a lot about what the dog is going to do. Following are the common postures and movements of dogs:

  • A dog standing in a normal position with its tail up and ears relaxed is in a relaxed and neutral posture.
  • A dog standing with its head lowered and tail down shows that it is fearful or submissive.
  • A dog avoiding eye contact and turning its head away shows that it is afraid or submissive.

Tail Movement

Movement of TailInterpretation
Tail is held highDog is confident and ready to face any challenge
Tail is horizontal and points away from the dogDog is attentive of surroundings
Tail is held up along the horizontal and vertical planesDog is showing its dominance
Tail is down and hind legs are slightly bent Dog is afraid and insecure
Tail is tucked between hind legsDog is afraid and trying to avoid a confrontation
Tail is down along the straight hind legs and there is back-and-forth movement of tailDog is in distress and suffering from stress or pain
Tail is up and curved slightly along the backDog is showing its dominance
Tail is horizontally straight and hardDog is ready to tackle any threat if it is challenged
Loose and broad tail wagging on both sidesDog is happy and friendly
Slow and incomplete tail waggingDog is unsure about the situation
Fast wagging of tailDog is excited
Wagging of tail towards the right sidePositive stimulation i.e., seeing its owner
Wagging of tail towards the left sideNegative stimulation i.e., seeing a stranger

Communicating With Samoyeds

Samoyeds are one of the most ancient breeds of dogs. 3,000 years of domestication has improved their understanding of humans as compared to other dog breeds. Therefore, they are an excellent breed in indoor environments and are good companions.

Communication with Samoyeds is based primarily on visual signals and speaking in a calm tone of voice all while maintaining mutual respect with them.

Use Visual Signals

Due to 3,000 years of domestication, Samoyeds have learned to communicate with their owners. Visual signals may include using your hands and face gestures. For example:

  • If you’re holding a treat in your hand and looking at your Samoyed, it’s likely it will sit or stay in anticipation of being rewarded for good behavior.
  • If you shake your head, “No,” when they start begging for the treat, they will stop begging.
  • When you give a thumbs-up sign after your Samoyed does a chore, they take it as praise.
  • Similarly, hand-up and hand-down gestures are used to command the Samoyed for standing or sitting.

Speak In A Calm Tone Of Voice

Samoyeds are very keen on interpreting vocal communication. They can judge the mood of the owner by the amplitude and pitch of the speech. Speaking to your Samoyeds in a calm tone will make them calm and happy. 

In contrast, if you speak in an agitated manner with your dog, it may make it anxious. It may lead it into thinking that it has done something wrong and ultimately lead it to ignore your commands and cause destructive behaviors.

Establish Mutual Respect

Although Samoyeds are very friendly, it does not mean you should tease them and make them upset just for your own enjoyment. You need to establish mutual respect with them in which both you and the Samoyed establish a healthy relationship of companionship. 

But how can you establish mutual respect with your Samoyed? These are the tips to establish mutual respect with your Samoyed:

  • Don’t touch it when it does not want anyone to touch it.
  • Avoid touching sensitive areas of the body like genitals.
  • Don’t talk in an arrogant and insulting manner.
  • Keep unfamiliar children away from the Samoyed.
  • Provide them with adequate attention. 
  • Spend enough time daily with them.
  • Take care of its health.

In Conclusion: How Do Dogs Communicate with Us?

Dogs communicate through a variety of visual and vocal signals like tail wagging, licking, and barking. Each visual or vocal communication could mean many things though, so be patient and take the time to learn how your dog is communicating with you. For example, a tail-wagging dog is not always a happy and friendly dog. Sometimes a tail-wagging dog is confused, excited, or being unfriendly.

Moreover, the body language of a dog can help us determine whether the dog is in pain or stress and if it is aggressive or calm. Although communication may vary a little bit in different breeds of dogs, it is mostly the same for all dog breeds too.

So, has your dog communicated in any of these ways with you? Why were they doing that? Let us know in the comments below!

Dr. Majid Tanveer (DVM)
Dr. Majid Tanveer (DVM)
Dr. Majid is a licensed veterinarian, writer, and animal welfare advocate. He obtained his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan. He has been working as a senior veterinarian for five years. Over the last few years, Dr. Majid has worked extensively for the betterment of animal welfare and rights in his country. He is also a proud owner of a dog, which he loves dearly. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his dog and indulging in his hobby of writing.