Dogs have their own complex language. When your dog meets another dog, they’re speaking to each other – just not always verbally. How dogs communicate with each other decides whether they’ll get along just fine, or clash completely.
Step 1: The Greeting
Dogs can tell a lot about each other very quickly when they first meet. How they greet each other has a big impact on how the rest of their interaction is going to go.
A typical dog greeting goes a bit like this: the 2 dogs circle around each other and give each other a good sniff. First they’ll sniff each other’s muzzles, and then (to some dog owners’ embarrassment) sniff each other’s back ends. Then the conversation really begins.
Step 2: The Conversation
How dogs communicate can be broken down into 3 categories: body language, scent, and vocalization. Let’s take a look at each.
Your dog will use their body language to let the other dog know how they’re feeling. This includes facial expressions, gestures, and positioning of certain parts of their body. Every little signal they give each other has a meaning.
- Bowing down: “I’m happy, and I want to play!”
- Rolling over: “I surrender.”
- Baring teeth: “You should be scared of me.”
- Tucking tail between legs: “I’m scared of you.”
Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell. Inside your dog’s nasal cavity, there’s an organ called the Jacobson’s organ (also known as the Vomeronasal organ). When your dog sniffs the other dog’s back end, they are able to pick up on all kinds of interesting things:
- “Have we met before?”
- “Are you available for breeding?”
- “What kind of mood are you in?”
- “How’s your health?”
- “What do you like to eat?”
- “What adventures have you been on recently?”
How dogs communicate with their voices sends signals to other dogs about what kind of mood they’re in. Dog vocalizations can have a range of meanings, from a low growl saying “keep your distance” to bursts of barking saying “let’s be friends!”
Play and Conflict
For new dog owners, it can sometimes be quite difficult to figure out if your dog is playing or fighting with another dog. After all, they’re wrestling, growling, and biting at each other’s necks. Understanding the languages of play and conflict will help you know when to step in and when to let them have fun.
From the time puppies open their eyes, they have a natural inclination to play – with their litter mates and their mother at first. New puppies play-fight almost all the time, taking breaks only to eat or sleep.
Play-fighting is actually vital to the development of a young dog. It helps them to develop bodily coordination and strength, and to think on their toes. It gets energy out that might otherwise turn into frustration and bad behavior.
These make-believe fights can look pretty rough to a human watching. In fact, most play-fights consist of louder growling than there would be in a real fight. This is because the whole fun for a dog is exaggerating real-life behaviors.
Play-fighting normally begins with the dogs bowing to each other, known as the “play bow”. Loud, drawn-out growling is normal during a play-fight and nothing to be concerned about. When a dog is playing, they move loosely, in a flowing, goofy style.
You’ll see that your dog and their playmate will take turns who gets to be the dominant one – the literal “top dog” – by being on top. The 2 pups will make a sneezing sound every so often to tell each other they’re still just playing.
When Conflict Arises
There are times when miscommunications happen between dogs. With all the verbal cues, gestures and scents going on at once, it’s possible for some part of the conversation to get misunderstood. This can result in a real dog fight.
When a dog is about to fight it will freeze and stare directly into the eyes of the other dog, holding his head low and his ears back. It’ll make low growling noises and curl its lips up to show its canine teeth.
Learn Your Dog’s Language
Learning the secret language of dogs takes some practice, but it is immensely helpful as a dog owner. Knowing how your dog communicates with other pups will keep you on the same page as them, and strengthen your mutual bond.