Communicating with your dog

Don’t forget to look at the entire body and evaluate the situation

The Importance of Knowing Your Dog

All of these tips are very good rules of thumb to follow for reading the body language of your dog, and strange dogs that you don’t know.

However, when it comes to your dog, you have both an advantage and a responsibility. All dogs are unique individuals just like people, and all breeds have slightly different features that can act differently when communicating.  A Shar Pei, for example, is too wrinkly to really count on wrinkles as a good indicator of feelings, and a dog like a Cocker Spaniel won’t be able to communicate through ear movement, because their ears typically stay put. A dog with a short or curly tail, like a Bulldog, won’t be able to show you with a bristled tail that they are feeling aggressive.

It is really important that when you are evaluating your dog’s body language that you take into account the whole body and also the situation you are in.  Sometimes certain signals can seem similar. You may be surprised to know that dogs don’t just wag their tail when they are happy. Tail wagging can actually also be a sign that a dog is feeling tense.  

Tail wagging is more just a sign that the dog is ready to interact. If the wag is slow, swishing back and forth and relaxed this is usually a happy greeting. If the tail is very erect and stiff and the wag is more of a quick vibration then it is a sign that the dog may be feeling tense about the interaction.

The following video’s are quite helpful for visually studying body movements.

Dogs are social creatures that live together, and so they need a dog language in order to get along. How dogs communicate with one another is based on a system of common signals. Obviously, dogs can’t talk, so their “language” is comprised of other signals—primarily body language, such as movement and positioning of the ears and tail, as well as how a dog positions himself near other dogs.

Your dog’s ancestors survived by forming packs that hunted together, communally protected young, and defended territory from outsiders. And while two individuals can get along, the more individuals added to a group increase the chance of arguments. Constant fights and injuries weaken the group. Survival depends on every dog—and puppy—in the group staying healthy and productive.

Dog language not only allows dogs to communicate and understand each other. It also is a system used for conflict resolution, including calming signals that head off fights. In fact, once you understand how dogs communicate and the way they interpret your verbal and silent body language, you can better communicate with your puppy.

How Dogs Communicate

Canine communication is a complex system of body language, vocalization, and even scent cues. These signals reinforce the dog’s social position within the group.

Dogs are pretty flexible with members of their family group. That’s why it’s so important to socialize your puppy early and continue throughout his or her life. Your dog considers you—and other people and pets in the household—to be a part of his family group and acts accordingly.

While your dog can’t tell you what’s on their doggie mind, he or she can sure tell you a lot through their body language. Norfolk K9 has put together a quick list to help you understand what your dog may be trying to tell you.

The Eyes:

  • When your dog is winking, it indicates a very happy, playful dog.
  • If your dog’s eyes are wide open, it means your dog feels ready to play.
  • When a dog breaks eye contact it means a dog is avoiding confrontation and being polite.
  • However, a dog holding eye contact, even staring, is a sure sign that the dog is challenging the object of their attention.
  • If your dog has wide, upturned eyes it’s a signal that the dog is feeling nervous or unsure.
  • Narrowed eyes usually mean your dog is feeling aggressive. Beware if this, especially if it is followed by concentrated staring.

The Ears:

  • When your dog’s ears are forward, it means the dog is paying close attention to something or is curious.
  • When your dog’s ears are flat against its head, it represents fear or aggression.
  • Ears way back but not close to its head may mean that your dog is feeling sad.

A Dogs Posture:

  • When your dog is relaxed, it will have its tail down, is standing without tension or lying down, with its eyes and ears pointed towards the center of its attention.
  • A playful dog or a dog that wants to play and have fun will have their tail up in the air, be bending their front legs onto the ground, and have their backside raised.
  • If your dog is excited it may have perked ears, a paw in the air, and slightly bowed back legs.
  • An alert dog will have their ears perked and back legs angled out behind them. It will look like they’re about to take off running.
  • A dog displaying dominance will have their ears up and forward, tails up, and legs stiff.
  • If your dog is exposing their stomach, with their tail close to their belly, and their legs are up in the air it is being submissive. If your dog is doing this and also rolling, they’re passively letting you know they’re not enjoying themselves.
  • Anxiety is shown when tails are bent low, heads are bent low to the ground, ears are back, and legs bent to hunch close to the ground.
  • Scared dogs will have tails bent all the way close to their bellies, bowed legs, and may have ears back or possibly flat.
  • Aggression is shown by bowed legs, ears bent back, and tail turned up.

Common Dog Gestures:

  • A paw raised and touched to another dog or owner means the dog needs something.
  • Hip wagging means a dog is really deep in play.
  • Ears up and head cocked to the side is a very common uncertainty/curiosity gesture.
  • Head shaking denotes the end of a certain activity. Your dog is pressing his own reset button, so to speak.

Common Dog Face Expressions:

  • A wide-open mouth with slightly upturned (but not curled) lips denotes a happy dog. It will almost look like a human smile.
  • Bared front teeth mean non-active aggression. It’s most commonly seen when a dog is guarding its bone or favorite toy.
  • A mouth stretched back and slightly open denotes pain.
  • Yawns can relieve stress, signal confusion, or tiredness.
  • Lip licking can mean a submissive dog or that your dog is trying to disperse their hormones to the air if they’ve got a dog crush.
  • Licking people and other dogs is a greeting and long, prolonged licks are a sign of closeness and affection or the desire to comfort.

Many behaviour problems arise from normal dog behaviours such as chewing, barking and more. Often at times, though we think we are being clear by directing and vocalising to our pet’s: we are actually are not communicating in a way that our dog can understand. Even though your communication to your pet seems obvious to you, it is often as if trying to understand a foreign language to a dog. They can only interpret the best way they know how.

If your relationship is to reach its full potential, it is important that you understand how your dog communicates so that you can be more effective at teaching him. Don’t expect puppies (or adult dogs for that matter) to automatically understand and read your mind. Puppies make behaviour mistakes because they don’t know any better and more often than not it’s a communication failure on our side! Participating in puppy training classes and working with certified dog trainers from an early age can be very helpful.


Compared to your puppy, humans are hearing-deaf and scent-blind. That makes it impossible for us to understand some of the more subtle signals of the canine language. But by paying close attention to body language and apparent vocal cues that our pet’s give us, we can learn to interpret the more obvious canine signals.

Dogs use body language, vocalisations and scent alone or in combination. Each type of communication has advantages and disadvantages.

Body language is one of the main way’s that dogs communicate, and it can be so subtle that even an experienced dog owner can miss cues from time to time. Being aware of eye, ear, tail and body movement and positioning and the various meanings is very important for understanding your pet.

Though it seems subtle, body language is one of the few way’s dogs have of communicating with us! Dogs have spent centuries trying to understand humans. We could do a lot more to try to understand them. The more time you spend with your pet socialising, going for walks, and purposely paying attention to their body language, the better you will become. The best dog owners are consistent with this.

Sound carries over long distances. Howls, barks, yips, snarls, growls and more easily understood amongst dogs. However, a bark may alert adversaries as well as pack members, so it’s not effective for stealth communication. Barks can communicate a lot of different messages such as excitement, fear, need for food or water and more.

Scent signals don’t require the dog’s presence to get a message across. The scent of urination can be left behind to alert other dogs of their presence. Anal gland scents can be left when a dog defecates which is normal or in instances when a dog is extremely nervous or fearful, anal glands may be expressed leaving a lingering odor.

Dogs use combinations of each technique to communicate meaning. Very basically, canine communication is used to either decrease the distance between individuals with signals that ask for attention—a wagging puppy tail, for example—or to increase the distance between individuals with warning signals such as growls.

Do you know what is your dog trying to say?

Knowing how to read your dog’s body language is the key to understanding your dog. Because dogs are non-verbal, their body language does the talking for them. Vocalisation takes second place to a dog’s body language. By interpreting body language, you can assess a dog’s attitude and possibly predict the next move. You can determine whether a dog is at ease or uncomfortable with a given situation.

After you learn the basic types of dog body language, spend some time observing dogs interacting with people and other animals in various situations. When two animals interact, their body language is almost like a conversation. It may even seem like a kind of dance. Much of the same can be seen between a human and a dog. With some practice, you will begin to see the subtleties of canine body language.

Once you understand canine body language, it can do more than simply help you communicate with dogs. Reading a dog’s body language can help protect you and your dog from dangerous situations. Without a sound, your dog can tell you that it senses a threat. When watching your dog interact with other dogs, you can watch its body language to see when harmless play may turn into a dog fight. Interpreting body language can also help with dog training and the identification of common behaviour problems.

Understanding the Body Language of Canine Yawns

Yawning is a form of dog body language. When you see your dog yawning, there’s a good chance he’s trying to communicate with you.

What It Is

Yawning in dogs looks just like it does in humans – wide-open jaw accompanied by a big, deep breath. While with people, we usually associate yawning with fatigue, when dogs yawn, it can sometimes also be a form of communication.

What It Means

Yawning is a type of appeasement gesture; something also referred to as a calming signal. Dogs yawn to deflect a threat. If a person or another animal approaches a dog, that dog may avert his gaze and yawn. It’s a dog’s way of saying that he feels threatened or anxious, but that he is not going to attack. Dogs use this type of body language to avoid conflict.

Keep an eye on your dog, and you may catch him yawning. It could happen if two children are fighting close to where the dog is lying down, if a child hugs him, when someone scolds him, or in a variety of other stress-inducing situations. Being aware of what causes anxiety in your dog can help you prevent him from being exposed to those situations.

If you see a dog licking his lips, you might assume he is simply eating or drooling over something. But what if there is no food around? What does lip licking mean then?

Lip licking is a type of dog communication. A dog who licks his lips is using body language to let you know how he’s feeling.

What It Means When Dogs Lick Their Lips

Dog trainer and behaviorist Turid Rugaas coined the phrase “calming signals” to refer to lip licking and similar dog behaviours. Lip licking is also often referred to as an appeasement gesture. Dogs exhibit certain behaviors and actions when they feel stressed or uncomfortable. It’s usually because there is something going on around them that they perceive as a threat. Dogs who are licking their lips are usually sending the message that they are worried.

Dogs lick their lips to appease and soothe a person or animal they see as a threat in order to ward off aggression. An example of this can be seen in dogs who are scolded when their owners return home to find the dog has had an accident in the house. A dog might not connect the scolding to relieving himself indoors. Instead, he sees his owner as a threat. The owner may be yelling and looming over him. The dog may offer an appeasement gesture by licking his lips and averting his gaze. This is the dog’s way of saying that he isn’t a threat to the person behaving in an aggressive manner.

Sometimes dogs exhibit appeasement gestures like lip licking and yawning when they are frustrated or confused. Many owners notice this during training sessions when their dogs are having trouble understanding what is being taught. If you notice lip licking, yawning, scratching, or ground-sniffing while training your dog, it might be time to stop the training session.

A dog cannot learn new things when stressed. To end on a positive note, ask your dog to do something simple he already knows, like sit. Reward with a treat and praise, then end the session. Try playing with your dog for a little while to bond and help your dog relax.

Another important possible reason for excessive lip licking in dogs is a health-related issue. A dog might lick his lips due to nausea, dental disease, or mouth pain. Look for other signs of illness and keep a close eye on your dog. When in doubt, contact your vet.

What to Do If Your Dog is Licking His Lips

While lip licking is usually considered a submissive gesture meant to prevent aggression from escalating, it is still a sign that a dog is stressed and uncomfortable with a situation. This appeasement gesture could be the dog’s first attempt to remove the threat, like to stop his owner from yelling at him or to get another dog to stop barking at him.

However, this doesn’t mean that the dog won’t become defensive if the perceived threatening situation continues. A defensive dog may resort to aggressive behaviour if appeasement gestures are unsuccessful.

If you see a dog licking his lips, back off and allow him some space to get more comfortable. Try to determine the source of the dog’s concern and remove it, if possible. This can save you from a potential bite from a dog who feels the need to defend himself.

If your dog is lip-licking at the vet or another place that makes him nervous, try to redirect him in a positive manner. You can ask him to do a trick and then reward him for complying. Avoid comforting your dog when he is uneasy as this only reinforces his fear or anxiety.

If your dog is lip-licking during a training session, it’s probably best to find a way to quickly end on a positive note (ask your dog to do something he knows and wrap up the session). Next time break down the action or behaviour into smaller segments so it’s easier for your dog to learn.

If you often find your dog exhibiting lip-licking behavior when there is no clear threat and no food around, you may want to investigate further. Perhaps there is something in your dog’s environment that is making him uneasy. Remember that there may even be a health problem, such as nausea or oral discomfort. 



What Does Whale Eye Mean in Dog Body Language?

Dogs convey their emotions and thoughts in a lot of different ways. They’re communicating with each other and with us, but we’re not always sure what they’re trying to say.

Whale eye is an example of dog communication. This is canine body language that gives you and other animals a clue as to what the dog is feeling and thinking.

What is Whale Eye in Dogs? 

“Whale eye” is a term dog trainer use to describe a dog’s body language when the whites of his eyes (the sclera) are visible. The dog will avert his head slightly, but his eyes stay fixed on something or someone. The whites of his eyes will appear in a half-moon shape, usually at either the inner or outer side of the eye, but sometimes all around. Whale eye is sometimes called “half-moon eye.” 

Whale eye isn’t always easy to detect in all dogs. The eyes of brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short muzzles) may show a bit of white due to their conformation, and any dog may simply look quickly to the side, which briefly uncovers their sclera. If the dog isn’t showing any other signs of agitation, what you’re seeing may not actually be whale eye. 

Signals that May Appear with Whale Eye 

A dog exhibiting true whale eye generally will display some other signals of stress as well. You may notice appeasement gestures like lip-licking or yawning. The dog’s hair may be standing up along his spine. He might also growl a warning or freeze in place rigidly. 

What Whale Eye Means in Dogs

A dog exhibiting whale eye is usually expressing anxiety and discomfort with the current situation. This dog is stressed and possibly even fearful. Whale eye can be a sign that the dog will soon become defensively aggressive. An anxious dog is more likely to bite. If you notice this type of dog body language as you’re approaching a dog, back off until the dog relaxes and becomes more comfortable, or at least until you can figure out what’s going on.

Take stock of the dog’s surroundings without approaching. Is there another dog or cat in the vicinity? Is a stranger approaching? The anxious dog may hear something that you can’t hear yet, like footsteps outside approaching your door. A child may be reaching for the dog’s favorite toy—or worse, a dog chew or treat.

A dog may exhibit whale eye if he is uncomfortable with what someone is doing to him, like being hugged, being petted in an area he doesn’t want to be touched, getting examined by a vet, or getting his nails trimmed.

What to Do When a Dog Exhibits Whale Eye

Your dog is hoping you notice his eyes and can pick up on the message he is sending. He wants you to do something to fix whatever is wrong. This is always your best course of action if you can identify the problem.

If it could be something you’re doing, simply stop. If another dog is approaching in a public area, lead your dog away. Keep in mind that your dog may also be tense, so you might have to coax him to move.

Scolding your dog is useless and will probably upset him further. How would you feel if you tried to whisper something urgent in someone’s ear only to be rebuked? When your dog exhibits whale eye, the problem isn’t with him—it is usually something external. 

Dogs reveal so much about their mood and intentions by how they hold their tails and how they move them. We can get much more out of our daily interactions with dogs if we take the time to understand the vast amount they’re telling us through body language. And that is especially true of tails. Many of us think that a wagging tail means a happy dog, but it’s much more complicated than that. In fact, a wagging tail doesn’t necessarily mean a dog is being friendly at all. Social context and other factors about the tail come into play to tell the entire story.

It takes a whole body to tell you what’s really going on — from ears to eyes, to lips and teeth, to stance and balance, to how the hair is raised — but the tail itself is a significant part of decoding a dog’s thoughts.


Of course, not all dogs have tails and some breeds have tails that are not as expressive, like pugs or basenjis. But all dogs do express themselves with tail movement. Here are some guidelines to read a tail for signs of what a dog is thinking.

Tail height

How a dog holds its tail speaks volumes. There is a tail held high, in a neutral position level with the spine, held low or tucked under.

A tail held high indicates a very high level of excitement. It could be joy, playfulness, alarm or any number of reasons. Whatever the reason, when your dog’s tail is straight up, or even arched over the back, you can be sure your dog is highly stimulated. This is a sign that you’ll want to watch your dog carefully because depending on the social situation, the dog can become overaroused and an interaction may move rapidly to a fight.

A tail held in a neutral position indicates a neutral mood. Everything is fine and dandy. Remember that different breeds have different neutral positions. For some dogs, like huskies, a neutral position is still fairly high, above the line of the spine. Yet for other dogs, like greyhounds or Rhodesian ridgebacks, a neutral position looks somewhat tucked under. It’s important to know your dog’s neutral position in order to get an accurate reading about whether the dog is holding it higher or lower than usual and what that means.

A tail held in a low position indicates nervousness or fear. A dog with a low or tucked tail is showing that he is unsure or afraid of what’s going on — and it also indicates that the dog could become defensive and lash out in an effort to protect itself.

Speed of the tail wag

How quickly a dog wags its tail also speaks volumes, especially in combination with the tail height.

The faster a tail wags, the more excitement a dog is feeling. When the tail is held high, and is stiffly wagging back and forth at high speed, the dog is showing unfriendly intentions. This is sometimes called “flag tail” and it should be a red flag to an owner. Take this sign seriously as it could mean a fight is about to break out any second if the situation isn’t diffused.

When the tail is wagging speedily at a neutral height, a dog is usually showing friendly intentions and is just really excited and happy about what’s going on. But this isn’t always the case. Some dogs may wag their tails quickly at a neutral height but if they are standing stiffly with a rigid body, the tail wag might not indicate friendliness at all. Take into account how relaxed the rest of the body is to gauge if a dog is definitely being friendly.

When a dog is wagging its tail at high speed while it is held low or tucked under, it is a clear indication that a dog is nervous and probably trying to be submissive, showing that the dog doesn’t mean harm and would like to be on the good side of whatever it is the dog is feeling intimidated by.

A slow, steady wag at any height, especially neutral, usually indicates happiness or confidence.

A tail held stiffly, without movement, at any height is usually a sign that a dog is alert and figuring out what’s going on. When a tail is held high and still, a dog should be approached carefully since he is very stimulated and is figuring out his next move. Similarly when a dog’s tail is tucked and stiff, he is feeling quite fearful and should also be approached with caution since he may feel defensive. When a tail is held straight out and stiff, a dog is usually on alert and paying attention to what’s going on, such as if he hears a noise or another dog barking. The dog is on alert but not necessarily feeling threatened.

Direction of the tail wag

Studies have shown that dogs wag more on the left or right side of their bodies depending on how they’re feeling. A dog that wags his tail with a bias to the right side is showing a positive, happy response to whatever is happening around him. But a dog wagging his tail with a bias to the left side is showing a negative, anxious response to whatever is happening.

Though it might be a bit hard for us humans to spot if there’s a bias to the left or right, other dogs see it easily and pick up on the cue. In the study, dogs shown videos of dogs wagging their tails toward the left (or negative emotion) side had increased heart rates and became more anxious. But when watching videos of dogs wagging with a bias to the right, the dogs remained neutral.

So remember, right side means positive emotions, and left side means negative emotions.

All of these pieces of information can be put together in different combinations and reveal different emotional states of a dog. By getting to know the meaning behind the various things a dog says via his tail, you can improve your communication with your dog. Even better, you can use your fluency in dog-speak to help your dog navigate social situations, understanding how he’s feeling at each moment and helping him through.

Why Do Dogs Growl?

Growling is a form of communication for dogs, and it’s a complex vocalization. It can mean that the dog is fearful, it can be a sign of aggression, or it can be an invitation to play.

The growl itself isn’t the most important thing to focus on when trying to determine why your dog is growling. The most important thing to focus on is the situation.

Dogs can make different growling sounds in different situations. Learning to recognise the circumstances of each type of growl will help you determine what your dog is trying to tell you.

Playful Growling

Dogs often growl during play, but this type of growling is often mistaken for aggression. In reality, your pup is just having a good time. In fact, this type of growl may be your dog’s way of saying, “hey, I want to keep playing – join me!”

Although the differences are subtle, play growls can be distinguished from aggressive growls.

Play growls are usually:

  • Higher pitched
  • Short

They’re also accompanied by playful body language, like play bows.

If your pup growls while playing with other dogs, don’t panic. Keep an eye on the situation to make sure it doesn’t escalate, but generally, growling just means that the dogs are having fun.

Aggressive Growling

It’s often easy to determine when a dog is growling out of aggression. Aggressive growling is:

  • Loud
  • Long, with low rumbles

Aggressive growls are usually accompanied by aggressive body language, such as lunging movements and raised hackles.

Dogs may growl aggressively for a number of reasons. They may be trying to protect a toy, food or their own space. They may be telling another animal to back off, or something may trigger their hunting instinct.

It’s important not to encourage this form of growling, and to remove your dog from the situation that is causing the behaviour.

Pleasure Growling

Just as dogs may growl when they’re having fun, they may also growl in pleasure. Dogs may not purr like cats when they experience pleasure, but they can sometimes make a strange purr-like growl noise.

Pleasure growls are usually:

  • Very low
  • Rumbling
  • Long

If your pup is having his belly rubbed when he growls like this, he may just be telling you that he’s really enjoying it. He may even be baring his teeth.

Frustrated Growling

Have you ever brought your dog to one of his friend’s houses, but he starts growling before he even gets out of the car? You may misinterpret this as aggression, but he may be growling out of frustration.

He wants desperately to get out and greet his friend, but the car doors are keeping him from saying hello.

This type of growling can also occur when a dog is on a lead or in a fenced in yard.

It can be tricky to determine if a dog is growling out of frustration or aggression, and in some cases, frustration can escalate into aggression. Again, context is important, so pay attention to the situation the dog is in.

A Warning

Growling can certainly serve as a warning. Warning growls are usually:

  • Deep
  • Rumbling

Dogs may growl this way when they feel threatened or possessive. In most cases, dogs give warning growls when humans or other animals encroach on their personal space.

A warning growl isn’t meant to be aggressive. It’s simply a polite warning that your dog is feeling uncomfortable. Your dog is simply communicating that he needs space.

Don’t ignore a warning growl. Try to identify what is making your dog feel uncomfortable, and remove the cause of the issue if possible.

Dogs can growl for a number of reasons, but none of them should be ignored. Remember to pay attention to the situation and your dog’s body language. These two factors will help you determine whether your pup is growling because he’s having fun, or if he feels threatened.

When your crying puppy drives you crazy with whimpers, yelps, barks, and howls, how can you understand all those puppy sounds? Canine communication helps reinforce your puppy’s social position within his family. Puppy talk may invite you to come closer or warn to keep away. It can be confusing because puppies use barks and growls during play as well as when they mean business.

Most often, vocalizations punctuate what the body movements are saying in the same way people use inflection to impart emotion and meaning. And because dogs realize people rely on verbal communication, our pets have become much more vocal than their ancestors.


Barking is rare in wolves, but it’s the most common vocal signal in dogs. It’s used during play, defense, and as a greeting. Barks are categorized as a dominance signal. But that does not mean barking necessarily equals aggression.

Barking is a canine fire alarm, a call to action that alerts the family group to the unusual. This may be anything from the arrival of friend or foe, to an unexpected sound like thunder, or the strange sight of you wearing a hat. Some dogs bark to relieve boredom, particularly when left alone for hours at a time, and dogs can be taught to stop barking.

But dogs won’t stop barking any more than people would cease talking to express themselves. Dogs also bark together as a joyful expression of happiness; that’s why yelling at a dog to stop barking rarely works—he thinks you’re joining in a communal bark-fest, and barks even louder. You won’t stop puppy barking altogether, but you could follow tips to reduce it.


Dogs use howls to express emotion and to announce their location to missing pack members. Usually, a howl is a canine cry of loneliness that implores others to come join him. Puppies left home alone or sequestered by themselves in a room may howl.

Some puppy breeds howl more than others. These include Northern-type dog breeds such as Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies that may be closer to ​wolf forebears than others. Hound breeds also tend to howl more often since they were bred to “bay” as a way to announce their tracking or hunting progress in the field.

Howls seem to be contagious, with a single lone call often answered by any other dog within hearing. Dogs may interpret a siren as a howl and respond with an enthusiastic reply. My German shepherd, Magic, howls along whenever I sing—maybe he’s a critic, or perhaps he simply wants to join in the happy chorus.

Whines, Whimpers, and Yelps

Whines, whimpers, and yelps communicate submission, pain or fear. The actual meaning depends on what the rest of the body “says.” When your puppy vocalizes with whines, whimpers or yelps while trying to keep her distance from you or some other situation, the sounds indicate fear. Puppy injury often gets announced with repeated yelps and holding up or favoring the hurt paw.

But whines, whimpers, and yelps also are used as solicitations to a dominant individual (usually the owner). In other words, your baby uses these techniques to beg for attention, food, or to go in or out.

Growls and Snarls

Growls and snarls are warnings. Dogs use these as distance-increasing signals to tell others to back off and stay away.

Snarls display the teeth and aren’t always accompanied by sound; they signify slight fear. Growls indicate deeper concern and can be made with the mouth open or closed. A dog’s growl is used in defense and as a threat. They often are used during play when your puppy attacks a toy or wrestles with other pups.

While a threatening growl and snarl can be scary, these sounds can be very important communication tools for your pup and to you. Puppies taught to never growl are more likely to bite without warning. That makes it especially important for all pups to learn proper bite inhibition. It’s important for your puppy to snarl and growl in appropriate circumstances—during play, when frightened or in pain—so you have fair warning and can adjust your own behavior accordingly.


Yes, dogs laugh! It doesn’t sound exactly how you’d expect, either. And while puppies and dogs use the other whines, growls, and barks in other contexts, the dog laugh appears to happen only during play.

A dog laugh sounds similar to a human saying, “Ha-ha-ha-ha!” but without sounding the “a” vowel. It’s simply a breathy exhalation, according to researcher P.R. Simonet. There’s also research that points to a dog sneeze in certain circumstances as being similar to a “canine giggle” of delight.

Recordings of the panting-laugh sound played at shelters have helped calm dogs’ stress. Sneezing can prompt a reciprocal sneeze in your puppy, too—because after all, laughter is catching and good medicine. Try it!

Mixed Signals

Puppies aren’t always sure how they feel. They can mix up vocal signals and make it difficult for owners to understand what they mean. Puppies that aren’t sure how they feel may bark, whimper, snarl, and yelp all at the same time. That usually means they’re more scared than aggressive. By learning to understand what your puppy says, you can help prevent dog bites and ensure you maintain a great relationship.

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