Sep 06 2018

What Your Dog is Really Saying

The ball rolls under the couch and your dog can’t reach it. He looks over at you, sticks his head under the couch with his tail wagging, and looks back over at you. What do you think he is saying to you?

“Get my toy!”

Most dog owners already know that their dog communicates with them, but scientists recently confirmed this, reporting that dogs use specific gestures to communicate their “wants” with humans!

Not only do dogs take commands, such as “sit” and “lie down,” with words and hand signals, but they give commands too! Dogs communicate with their bark, it’s true, but also with their body movements and gestures (or signals). The scientists reported that dogs use different gestures to coax their owners into “performing” certain commands.

The commands were:

  • “Give me food/drink”
  • “Open the door”
  • “Get my toy/bone”
  • “Scratch me!”

They discovered 19 different gestures that dogs used to get their owners to fulfill their commands. Sometimes a dog would call on several different gestures to get a single command fulfilled. This could have been due to a delay in the response from the pet owner.

The most common gesture was a head turn, where the dog turned his head from side to side, usually between a human and an apparent object of interest. This gesture was used for all the commands noted above.

Just as certain gestures were used for different commands, other gestures were used exclusively for a single, specific command (want). For example, rolling onto one side of the body and exposing the chest, stomach, and groin always meant “Scratch me!”

An interesting take away from this study is that this type of gesturing in animals (other than humans) is quite rare. It has been observed in the great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans) and some bird and fish species, but limited to one or two gestures and only with members of the same species (with the exception of apes in captivity where they have been observed to gesture with their human caretakers). To observe such “cross-species” behavior (between a dog and a human) is rarer still.

For years we have known that dogs understand the commands we give them, using signals (gestures) as well as words, but now we know for a fact that dogs use their own gestures to give us commands, and understand what they are telling us!

The human-canine bond goes back thousands of years. Over this time, dogs and humans have clearly developed the knack to understand each other’s gestures – and wants.

The next time your dog wants the door opened to go out, pay attention to the signals he sends – does he paw the door? – jump up and down at the door? – look from the door to you and back to the door again? You might be amazed at the way your dog is communicating with you to get what he wants!

LifeLearn Team |