Why do Dogs do What they do? And How You Can Understand Them

Too many people who don’t own one, a dog can seem like a nuisance or just another cute furry animal. Maybe some people like dogs, but feel like they don’t have what it takes to train them. People get dogs for many different reasons too! Some for therapy, others for working purposes such as herding, police work, search and rescue, and gatekeeping, with many others getting dogs as a status symbol. Some get a small dog to keep at home and just to have something to pet, other individuals like to get big dogs because they see themselves as big and healthy too, or vice versa as well.

Two big dogs with their tongues hanging out

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However, the truth is that although some dogs may have more instinctual strengths than others, all dogs share the same body language. Moreover, they understand each other very well too. It’s this language that decides every dog’s status in the pack, and they inherited from their first ancestor, the Wolf. We listed the top 50 most common canine body languages so you can understand your companion better, and speak to them better as well. Enjoy!

Eye Contact

Dogs giving eye contact to their owners is always an exceptional moment for the canine. You may think that they do it to beg for food, or maybe ask you to play, but that’s only half the explanation.

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Dogs first and foremost, look at you in the eye to convey the message that they love and trust you. So, don’t yell at them if they beg by giving you “puppy dog eyes,” they are only saying I love you and trust you, and I hope that leads to food.

Bark and Growl

Dogs tend to have a slight growl when they are unsure. Although experts say that this is a sign of a stressed dog about to fight. That’s not too true.

Dog barking

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Yes, if a dog is growling at you, you should never try to pet it, but if it’s also something that happens if you train your dog not bark. Something beneficial If you want a good night’s sleep!

Gifting

Dogs and Cats may have many differences, but one of the things they very much have in common is the habit of gifting! If your dog thinks they have exhausted all options, and they are still unsure if you love them or not, then they will bring you a ball, a stick, or maybe your favorite sock, and lay it down in front of you!

Dog holding toy in it s mouth

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It’s a sweet habit, just make sure they don’t gift you dead rodents!

Waiting for Permission

Dogs have a sweet tendency of stopping and checking with mom and dad before they do something different or go too far. Ever catch your dog staring at you after you pored food in their bowl?

Pitbull waiting for permission

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Their waiting for approval, and want you to give them praise so that they know that this food is really okay to eat. It’s kind of sweet if you ask me!

The Difference Between Eye Contact and Starring

Dogs stare at one another from afar sometimes as a sign of either aggression or play, and it’s hard to tell which they are feeling. If you catch your dog staring and their tail is wagging slowly, it means they feel uneasy and need reassurance.

Dog lying on the steps

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If they stare and get low, they are planning to play, and if that tail goes nuts, they are happy and content.

Downward Dog

Dogs love to play, and if they want you to join in the fun, they will be very clear in letting you know. When dogs want some playtime in the park, or at home, they will go into a position used in yoga called a downward dog.

Dog walking to the right

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Their butt goes high up in the air, and they stick their face in the ground. Maybe they will throw in a little bark too! This means “chase me, play with me, throw me the ball!”

Stranger Danger

Before you put your hand out to say hello to a dog, make sure that you know they are ready to accept your welcome. Dogs have visible signs of body language to tell us if they would like to be touched or not, and if they want you to stay away from them, they will let you know.

Hunting dog pointing his snout forward

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If a dog has their tail down, ears perked, and their tongue out, then that’s a Tell Tail sign they are happy to say hello.

Complete Relaxation

Dogs tongues usually stick out to the side for two different reasons. One being they are panting and too tired to keep it stiff after a long walk, and the other is that they are very relaxed and happy to the point where their tongue just naturally limps to the side.

Dog in a car yawning

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If you catch your dog doing this, it means you’re doing a great job at being a parent. Keep it up!

The Classic

Dogs tilt their heads for one reason and one reason only. They are confused and don’t understand what, you’re doing, saying, or where you’re going! The head tilt is super cute and great for pictures.

Dog lying down with a tennis ball in front of him

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If you want your dog’s head to tilt, try asking them a question you have said before, they will be unsure if your serious or not and give you a slight tilt. Then take the picture!

Curiosity

Dogs have a sense of smell, and hearing that is drastically better than humans, and even human machines in some cases. The reason for this high sense of surroundings is because they need it to see. Yes, even though dogs have eyes, they do not see all colors, and in some cases, can’t see as far as we can, or in the same quality, we do.

Dog standing up smelling the air

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So, dogs have produced a part of their brain that functions with the sole purpose of drawing a physical map of their surroundings. If you see your dog’s tail perk up, or out, they heard something new, smelled something new, and learned something new about the neighborhood.

Lucy Goosy

Dogs work very hard all day, even when they are looking out the window, they burn calories. This because all dogs, (some more than others) have a natural drive instinct. Their thoughts race with worry’s all day. “Where are my owners, when will they come back what was that sound!” These thoughts cycle through their minds continually throughout the day.

Dog licking his nose

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So, if you see a mouth wide open, and eyes closed, then it means they are relaxed you’re around to worry for them, or are panting and tired of being so hyper-aware.

Puppy Crash

Puppies have a lot of energy! However, unlike adult dogs, they can only use that energy for short spouts of time. Usually, a puppy will do what’s called a “Puppy Zoom.” Meaning they abruptly start zooming around the grass as fast as they can to get out all the happy energy, they have in their little baby bodies.

A dog lying down and another dog standing above him

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So just like toddlers, after zooming around the grass, or house, they collapse into a peaceful sleep with their arms and legs sprawled out on the floor!

Licking

Dog kissing can feel gross and maybe annoying sometimes. Dogs lick for many reasons. The first being their natural submissive instinct. In the wolf world, the alpha wolf gets kissed round the clock by the pack to let him know that they are submissive to him. Other reasons are even sweeter than that. Dogs kiss each other when they are sick, and that’s a natural medicine in their drool that they are passing on to you.

Puppy licking man's face

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So, it’s actually healthy for dogs to lick your wound. Also, yes, it is mostly just a way to say “I love you!”

Laying On Your Feet

Dogs have a habit of being glued to your side. This habit varies in different breeds. For instance, a Blood Hound who was bred to go out and hunt scents will feel safe not staying so close, and a chihuahua will not leave your side in fear that a predator may be near.

Poodle laying on someone's legs

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If you want some quiet time try telling your dog to go to their crate, and if you crate trained them right, they will feel just as safe there as they do with you!

Leaning

Dogs thrive on a sense of safety, and the more sensitive your dog is, the closer they want to be to you. When a dog leans in, it’s their form of latching on for a hug to feel safe. Dogs tend to lean on their owners on a bus, in the car, or out in the park if they have not been there before.

David Spade with his dog

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Your dog may also lean on you if you did not give it enough attention. Some dogs do it to complete strangers they like too!

Tummy Time

Dogs have one instinct that is very unusual for any animal, and the only reason they have it is because of human domestication; they get on their back, relax their paws and expose their tummy. This is unusual because their ancestor the wolf would never partake in such a dangerous habit. The stomach is the most vulnerable part of a wolf’s body, and the last thing they want is to expose it to predators.

puppy lying on its back on the grass

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Try to get a wolf on their back, and you’re going to get a bite at best. However, dogs are able to do this because they feel so calm and safe with you in the pack!

Grumpy Monkey

Just like dogs let one another know when they are happy, they can use the same facial language to let you know the opposite too! Teeth baring, ears back, and a bit of snarling is an unmistakable message of “Leave me alone,” but it’s not a sign for you to worry.

black dog playing in the snow

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The most important thing you can do in this instance is to give your dog confidence that you’re in control. A quick correctional firm tug on the leash followed by a relaxed leash should be enough to focus them back up.

Howling

Dogs got their howling instinct from wolves. Also, they are not the only animal to do so! Bears, cats, tigers, and all types of other animals have their own style of howling. Yes, cats don’t sound like dogs at all, but a howl is less about the song, more about the feelings. Think of the howl like a song. It’s a way for them to express their feelings, and it releases endorphins to help them relax.

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Pac’s of wolfs like to howl early in the morning, or after sundown together so they can relax before going to sleep or hunting. Cats, for instance, sing in the middle of the night during mating season.

More Signs of Trust

Dogs have many protective instincts they got from the wolf. For instance, when dogs mate, they actually face away from one another in order to watch out for predators. No matter how safe a dog feels, they will never be able to get rid of this instinct. However, wolves sleep with their stomach firmly on the ground, ears up, and chin forward.

dog sleeping in bed with someone's feet sticking out from under the covers

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However, if a dog feels safe at home, they enjoy a nice nap on their side, with their stomach exposed to the world. They know you’ll keep them safe!

Paw Waving

If your canine starts waving her paws around like crazy. It’s because she has a lot of pinned up energy that she’s trying so hard to get out. This is not just a canine instinct either. Marylin Monroe used to wave her hands up and down between takes in movies or photoshoots, in order to shake off anxiety and get back to being relaxed and comfortable.

dog giving his paw to his owner

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So, if you find yourself doing it too. Don’t worry you haven’t lost your mind!

Head Smush

In Tibet, there is something called a head hug. Two people embrace by pushing one another’s heads close together with a bit of pressure. They learned this from Tibetan Spaniels, whom they regarded as holy re-incarnations.

Woman cuddling with her dog on a couch

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The truth is that all dogs do this, and the Buddhists got it right. For dogs, this is a way of saying I love you, and the best way of saying it. It’s the ultimate dog hug!

Happy Pounce

Dogs are like grandmothers; they sit at home all day worrying if you’re safe or not. So, when you get home, they can’t hold in the excitement, and they pounce on you with joy. For some big breeds, this is not encouraged as it can create dominate traits in the animal. However, it starts with joy and love when you come home.

puppy about to pounce

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Sometimes they will jump high up and try nipping your ear. According to dog experts, the ear nip is the true kiss in the dog world.

Cuddles

Dogs have an instinct for family time after eating. If you want to ensure a happy dog. Go for a long morning walk followed by a nice breakfast, and ten times out of 10 your pup will then come to the couch for a good cuddle.

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They are happy because you explored, you hunted, you ate, and now it’s time to say “thank you.”

Obsessive Love

Dogs are very sensitive, and obsessively in love with their owners. They are so in love in fact that their favorite place to sleep is where you sleep because that’s what smells the most like you. If you catch your dog dreaming on your bed, they may be dreaming about you!

puppy next to his bowl looking up

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Fun fact about the smell, did you know dogs don’t have a sense of time, but when your scent starts to dissipate from the house, they know you may be coming home soon, and wait in the last place your smell is, the door!

The Dog Hello

Dogs can’t use their words to shake hands. Instead, dogs have their own form of shaking hands.

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It’s really simple, just shove your face into the other dogs behind and you said: “Hello, how are you?” Obviously, I’m joking, and you should not do this, but if you catch two dogs doing this, be happy it means they are good friends!

Tail Chase

Dogs chase their tail for two reasons, either they are bored and want to self-entertain, or they are anxious and need to do something to shake it off. If you catch your dog chasing its tail, then it’s probably a TELL TAIL sign you need to take them out for a walk!

Dog chasing his tail

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Don’t worry about the chances of your dog catching its tail and hurting itself are very low!

A bit of a Wink

When dogs are left a long time without quality petting time and snuggles, they will let you know. They do so by blinking or staring at you from close up with their ears down in a gentle demeanor. Dogs actually get more out of petting than even humans do.

Dog winking and sitting outside

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When we pet our dogs, they release something called dopamine in their brain, and they get a sense of stimulation across their body that is kin to humans after prolonged exercise. So, if you get a blink, give a belly rub.

Passed out and Dreaming

When I first saw my dog dreaming, I was terrified. Her body was shaking, her eyes were rolling back, her paws were twitching, and I thought she was having a seizure. I immediately called the vet and started telling her what I thought were symptoms.

White Dog lying on his back

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She then proceeded to tell me to relax, and in a laughing tone said, “She’s dreaming, it means you’re doing a great job, and she’s happy!”

The Tummy Curl

When a dog curls up into a ball, or tuck their paws into their body, they are not napping; they intend to sleep through the night. If not for this sleeping position, their muscles would stay tense in their sleep, and they will not reach full relaxation.

Pug lying down on a blanket and pillows

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This form of sleeping will bring your dog to a deep REM! Moreover, they may not let you know, but waking them up hurts their feelings a lot, and they don’t like it. So, if you see them in this cute little position, avoid the urge to smush their faces. Even if they’ll let you!

More about the Curl

Another reason dogs curl up like this is because they need to stay warm. Their tummies have less fur, so to protect from exposure to the elements, they curl up and keep that tummy warm.

French bulldog lying flat on his face on the floor

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Wolfs on the other hand only do this in the den, and would never think of being this relaxed anywhere else. You may catch your dog’s ears go up mid-sleep. Yes, they have the ability to listen while sleeping.

Post-Bath

Not all dogs love taking a bath, but after a bath, they do one of the cutest things a dog is capable of doing! They start going to their favorite spots in the house, like the bed, couch or carpet, and start smashing their tummies into them; they are rubbing their heads all over pillows and roll up and down the rug! The reason they do this is to spread their scent around the house again.

Wet dog running on the grass

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Dogs feel like you have washed it off them, and they need to get it back as well! Make sure to keep soap away from their ears in the tub, and dry their paws fast, so they don’t get sick!

Trashing the House

If you’re thinking about getting a big dog, there are a couple of things to consider before to avoid your couch looking like this. The first is time. If you don’t have at least 3 separate hours a day to walk your dog. The second is energy. Any dog that originated from a working breed is going to have a lot of energy, and that you need to match that energy with play, training, and long walks.

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If you come home from work and find your couch looking like this, it’s not because your dog was having anxiety. And with dogs, anxiety quickly turns into boredom. Let’s focus on a few simple things you can train your canine to keep their brains working, and their hearts happy.

First and Foremost

Before we talk about training exercises that focus on play, we need to talk about leash training. Leash training is at the very core of anything you will want to teach your dog in the future, and leash training should begin when your dog is young and ready to sponge new information.

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On the leash, dogs learn you’re the leader of the pack. Hold them close with two hands holding the rope on a 90-degree angle. Use voice commands, and accompany them with slight corrections by tugging (not pulling,) the leash and make the walk, about your dog sticking by your side.

Sit & Stay

Once your canine has become familiar with the tone of your command voice and understands they are there to serve you, then you can begin training your dog some simple commands. The first and most important command is “sit” and “stay.” This is just as much a way for you to understand the training process as it is for your dog. Take your dog’s favorite treat or toy, and look them in the eye, and put your finger up and tell them to sit.

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They will sit naturally in attention. The second they do, give them a treat. Once they have done this correctly, try walking back slowly on step at a time and telling them to stay. It’s important to give a treat only when they stay.

Lying Down

Teaching your dog to lay down is very important if you want them well behaved around children or in social situations like restaurants, or parties. You are not just telling your dog to lay down, but you are also conveying the message that you are in control, and they can relax. To teach your dog the “down” command, you will need to use the nose technique.

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First, keep your dog sitting and staying. Bring the food or treat close to their nose, and slowly put your hand down towards the floor, while repeating the command “down.” Your dog should follow your hand down to the floor, and then you give them a treat.

Rolling Over

Once you have a feeling for the nose technique, you can do things that are more complicated like the command “roll over.” This to teach your dog to roll over, just get them to a down position, then guide their nose in a circle on the floor.

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When you do this the natural instinct for your dog is to roll over. When they do reward them with a treat.

Paw

The “paw” command is always very fun, and a great conversation starter as it is adorable too! This command is the easiest to teach when your dog is a pup.

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All you have to do is wait until they naturally beg for food with their paw, and meet them halfway with your hand, give them a treat every time your hand’s touch.

Jump

The jump command is very cute, and a great way to get energy out for your canine, it’s also the first thing to teach them before trying out obstacle courses. It’s effortless, just bring your dog to a sitting position, tell him to stay, hold your hand high up over their head, and with an assertive tone, tell them “jump!” They should pop right up in the air.

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Make sure to not train this until your dog is an adult, as their joints are still too soft for high jumps when they are young.

Heel

Once your dog has become familiar with your voice, touch, and dominance, you can now try taking off the leash. Obviously make sure to do this in a big outdoor space with no cars around, and tons of room for mistakes. Start with the leash, hold your hand with a treat close to their nose and keep them right by your side, and repeat the command heel.

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Make corrections every time they go too far forward, or back. Give them praise when they are by your side. When you think they are ready, take off the leash, and say “Heel,” they should come right by your side expecting another treat!

Essential

Training your dog is not a one-time deal and should be repeated every day. The reason we train our dogs is to keep their life exciting and engage their minds.

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So, go out every day and do different engaging things with your dog and it will end up coming home relaxed, and happy. Always remember that your dog has feelings, and needs just like you do, and if you don’t address them, it will only make being a dog owner harder for you.

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