Ask a Scientist: Dog Demeanor

Graceful Bird asks, “How do I understand my dog?”

Great question, Graceful Bird! Wouldn’t it be great if we could talk to animals? Dogs may not speak words like we do, but they do still communicate with one another like many other animals. Sometimes they bark out loud, but mostly they use their bodies to let us and other dogs know how they feel. Dogs especially like to use their tails, ears, eyes, mouths, and fur to tell us things. Have you ever seen a dog slowly wag its tail down low? This means they’re happy to see you! If they hold it up high and wag it very fast, that means they’re very excited and may need some quiet time to calm down. When they’re angry, they may do things like growl, show their teeth, and “bristle” (fluff up their fur). When they want to be left alone, they might look away, yawn a lot, or walk away from you. They also do silly behaviors like bow down to tell you they want to play or nudge you with their head, paws, or bodies if they want you to pet them. Dogs send us lots of neat messages using “body language”, and if you watch them closely, you’ll understand them too!

-Cassidy, the dog scientist

For more information about dog body language, check out this website. To learn even more, check out this article, too!

If you have any questions about animals for our scientists, you can submit them here.

Cassidy Cooper is a PhD student in the Animal Behavior Graduate Group at UC Davis. She is studying how different environments affect the behavior and body functions of salmon.

Main image taken and provided by Cassidy Cooper: “A happy dog, Canis lupus familiaris, does the ‘play bow’ behavior to tell you he’s having fun!”

[Edited by Nicole W. Korzeniecki]

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