What Your Dog Is Really Trying To Tell You – Barks, Bites & More


| LAST UPDATE 02/27/2023

By Lily Tipton

Whether you're a new or old dog owner, understanding what your pup is trying to tell you can be difficult. Unsurprisingly, they're a clever bunch, sending us all sorts of messages through their actions.

Howling at the Moon

A wolf howling at the moon is an image we can easily conjure up in our minds, with the concept so commonly portrayed in movies and television. What's less known is the fact that domestic dogs do this too.

Dog Howling Behavior ExplainedDog Howling Behavior Explained
@bunny_thebeagledog via Instagram

Although more common with Huskies and Hounds, many dogs still honor their ancestors with this vocal exercise. Although no official conclusions have been made, numerous theories exist on why dogs do this. Some scientists are confident it's a means of communication; others believe they are just responding to an external, loud noise.

Sleeping Positions

Sleeping with our legs tucked in may be our favorite way to get cozy at night, but it means something else when a dog does this. Although our pups certainly look cute cuddling up in this way, they're actually unable to fully relax their muscles and reach REM sleep when in this position.

Dog Sleep Position ExplainedDog Sleep Position Explained
@toypooapo via Instagram

So, when one sees a dog lying as so, it's fair to assume they are merely taking a nap and have not clocked out for the evening. Shyer, more timid canines will favor this position for sleeping - never truly allowing themselves to zone out. Cute stuff - we warned ya!

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Puppy Dog Eyes

Is there anything more endearing than a set of puppy dog eyes looking straight at you and into your soul? For our pets, this adorable stare is a tried and tested tactic to receive whatever it is they desire from us. Even the kids have caught on and given it a go! So why are these eyes so darn effective?

Puppy Dog Eyes MeaningPuppy Dog Eyes Meaning
@aroxronz via Instagram

When we see this plea, we tend to perceive it as an expression of sadness and bend at the knees to hand over treats in an attempt to cheer them up. However, research has proven that when dogs do this, they're simply telling us they love and trust us. Once they catch on to our weakness, they'll do it every time they're hungry!

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Aggression Expression

Although we shower our pet dogs with all the love in the world, they can occasionally still feel threatened and lash out unexpectedly in self-defense. To prevent these outbreaks from occurring, tuning in to the early warning signs can allow us to calm them down and avoid any spurts of aggression.

Dogs Growling Aggression SignsDogs Growling Aggression Signs
@dawgdogdawgie via Instagram

The best telltale signal is growling. To show off how dangerous they are, dogs will begin to show their teeth, snarling and growling in the direction of the threat. Their ears will move backward, and they will back themselves up. This is when it is best to give them space and allow them to calm down.

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Seeking Permission

A well-trained dog will be an obedient and attentive creature. If you find your dog looking up at you before running off into the distance with his friends or giving you a stare before catching the ball you threw out for him, this is his way of seeking your approval. Put simply, he knows who's boss.

Dogs Permission Discipline TrainingDogs Permission Discipline Training
@beachloverlife via Instagram

These canines are intelligent animals, understanding if they go against your wishes, you will be unhappy with them. In order to avoid this reaction, they will ensure their actions have been green-lit. This act of discipline on behalf of the dog represents the strong, trusting relationship you have established.

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The reason a dog would squint at you is not so unlike why a person would do it. Just like their human friends, they're scrunching their eyes to make it clear that they're not impressed by us. They want more attention from their loved ones, and this is how they make it happen.

Dogs Squinting Behavior MeaningDogs Squinting Behavior Meaning
@lageminis via Instagram

It might be playtime they're after or just an enthusiastic audience to watch their tricks. Whatever it is, they're not messing about, and those eyes signal attention is what they are craving. If you're greeted by this expression upon returning home after a long day of work, you've been out too long!

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Overheating Signals

Next time you spot your dog lying on her back, pay close attention to how her legs are positioned. If they're in the air, there's no issue, and the canine is free to be left as is. If her legs are crossed over her body while she lays back, this may be a more concerning sign.

Dogs Overheating Signs SummerDogs Overheating Signs Summer
@tofuthelappie via Instagram

This tends to be how dogs arrange themselves when overheating as they work to get air on their stomachs and cool down their bodies. If the sun is shining, and your dog is laying out like so, get them indoors and hydrate them as soon as possible. They can handle the heat better than us, but the dangers are just as serious.

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Many of us are familiar with the various human love languages, but fewer people know that dogs also have different approaches. Some dogs will squint when they crave attention, while others will stare their owner down till victory. If your dog is locking eyes, they want to hang out.

Dog Staring Meaning PlayfulDog Staring Meaning Playful
@lifeconkanela via Instagram

Take the time to familiarise yourself with your pet's ways. Observe and note what they do to signal their desire for different things. How do they react when you do or instruct them to do x? What's their go-to position when they feel frightened or hear a threatening noise?

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Panting Heavily

Unlike dolphins, who do not intend to be smiley animals, dogs know how to whip out a smile on cue and let you know they're happy. These smiles can tell their owners everything they need to know about their pet's happiness levels, helping them to glean exactly what they do and don't enjoy.

Dogs Panting Smiling HappyDogs Panting Smiling Happy
@angie_golden_dog via Instagram

A dog's smile usually appears while they pant, letting its tongue hang low. Looking over at their owner, watching them closely, and waiting for instructions, they're signaling to them that everything is good in their books and they're getting the attention they require.

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Intensely Gazing

We've learned that a dog-owner staring competition is a signal for attention, but what if that stare goes on a little longer than usual? If your pet pup is giving you an intense look directly in your eyes, this means they're waiting for directions. In dog language, it's the ultimate sign of allegiance.

Dogs Intense Staring MeaningDogs Intense Staring Meaning
@metropolistails via Instagram

This stare-down is your dog's way of showing you their love and that they're ready and waiting to do what you tell them. At the same time, they can also display this expression when they require reassurance. If a situation is tense, they will look over for comfort and permission to relax.

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Intrigued Yet Chilled

One of the best positions to find your dog is standing, open-mouthed, with perky ears and a relaxed tail. If you see this, you can be confident that your pup is feeling good. They do this only when they are feeling completely calm and curious about what's going on around them.

Dog Anxious Behavior SignsDog Anxious Behavior Signs
@shiloh.the.cardicorg via Instagram

Dogs can only chill in this way when they are sure no threat is near and they're open to new opportunities and adventures. When approaching a stray dog, it's essential to make a note of their stance to be sure they're open to making new friends! When they look like this, you're in the clear!

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Forward Ears & Pointed Tail

It's long been known that our dogs can sense danger in ways no humans can. It's their sixth sense that allows them to pick up on potential threats and warm their human companions to watch out. This is done through their body language, which includes forward ears and a pointed tail.

Dogs Threat Attack BehaviorDogs Threat Attack Behavior
Gopal1035 via Wikimedia Commons

That being said, if your dog has positioned itself like this, that doesn't necessarily mean there's reason to panic. Canines can display these features when uncomfortable in a strange, new environment. Their ears are listening out, but their tail simultaneously suggests they're intrigued.

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The Rising Bark

It's often said that a dog's bark is worse than its bite, but this rings even more true when the sound they emit inflects at the end. Rather than signaling anger, as most would assume, this type of bark, known as a rising bark, sends a message that they are ready to play!

Rising Bark Dog MeaningRising Bark Dog Meaning
@make.believe.learn.teach via Instagram

When two dogs bark in this way to each other, they are bonding and having a good time with each other. When dog owners imitate this rising bark back to them, it can evoke a sense of excitement within the canine as they prepare for playtime ahead. Make sure to teach them how to calm back down!

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'Dead Bug' Sleep

The only time dogs will allow themselves to sleep completely unrestricted and unprepared is when they are 100% confident it is safe to do so. If a dog looks like they're laying out on a deckchair with no care in the world, that's because that's precisely how they're feeling.

dog back sleeping position meaningdog back sleeping position meaning
@kotaro_toypoo_always_sleepin via Instagram

Lying on their backs with their legs spread out carelessly is commonly referred to as the 'dead bug' or 'crazy legs position.' If your dog opts to sleep this way, you can be sure you've provided him with the most comfortable home, where he can sleep with wonderful dreams and let his guard down.

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Sniffing for What?

We know dogs have an impeccable sense of smell, helping them sense potential danger from miles away. But what exactly are they doing when they sniff each other's rears? What sort of threat do they believe lurks in there? Moreover, what are they looking for when they take a whiff of humans?

Dog Sniffing Nose GuideDog Sniffing Nose Guide
@petbutlerorangecounty via Instagram

This practice is what the experts call scanning, and it's a way for the canines to familiarize themselves with other dogs and humans through their specific smell. Before approaching a new dog, put out your closed hand and allow them to sniff you. This will help ease them into the interaction.

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Side Sleeping

Is there anything better than a good night's sleep tucked up on our sides? Seeing your dog relaxing in this position might be the only thing that tops it. Similar to the humans in their lives, our pet dogs love to sleep sideways. Unlike us, though, they have a technical reason for enjoying this sleeping arrangement.

Side Sleeping Dogs MeaningSide Sleeping Dogs Meaning
@librathedawg via Instagram

Due to its comfortability, it allows the dog to truly relax in a deep sleep. Although it does leave their bodies exposed and vulnerable, the fact they are on their side will enable them to jump up quickly if danger arises. If you find your dog passed out like this, know they were exhausted, but thought ahead.

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How They Sweat

As soon as the sun comes out for the summer, we feel ourselves beginning to sweat. While it may seem like our pet dogs are rolling with the heat, not breaking a sweat, a different story can be told under their paws. Unlike us, canines don't secrete sweat from their skin; their feet let it all out.

Dog Paws Sweat SummerDog Paws Sweat Summer
@brynthegsd via Instagram

Have you ever wondered why your dog gets more excited than your kids when you inflate that kiddie pool? Knowing where their sweat emerges from, we can appreciate the relief their bodies feel when they dip their hot paws into the cold, refreshing water.

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Belly Side Down

It's not just humans that like to pass out after a long, hard, tiring day. Dogs also enjoy letting it all go and crashing hard, face down in their pillow. The majority of pups favor this belly-down sleeping position, which usually occurs when a casual lie-down turns into a full-on sleep.

Dogs Belly Sleeping PositionDogs Belly Sleeping Position
@luluenglishcockerspaniel via Instagram

Like us, they think all they need is a relaxing sit-down, only to soon realize how shattered they really are. Before they know it, they've crashed - getting those well-deserved Zs in. Not only is the result completely adorable, but it also helps you know you've given him enough stimulation for the day.

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Fox-Like Wrap

As learned, everything a dog does is for a reason, sending some sort of signal about their wellbeing. When dogs curl up in a fox-like ball, tucking their paws in to touch their stomachs and wrapping their tails around, it's evident that they are in need of some extra warmth.

Fox Wrap Dog Sleeping BehaviorsFox Wrap Dog Sleeping Behaviors
@rockythegentlegiant via Instagram

The animals do this when they are cold as they understand that this position will help to contain the heat. This act is common for cold-weather dog breeds such as Siberian Huskies. A secondary benefit of the fox wrap is that it adds a protective layer for the animal's internal organs.

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Backing Up Their Mates

Although some humans aren't too selective over who they sleep next to at night, dogs are very particular about who they cuddle up with. They can't zone out just anywhere either, requiring a warm, comfortable, familiar resting place. If your dog is not settling down at night, something is not right.

Dogs Sleeping Together LoyalDogs Sleeping Together Loyal
@brubear_and_brothers via Instagram

Moreover, they can't be expected to doze off alongside your friend's dog, who they don't know. If they're sleeping against anyone, it's a member of their pack or a human that's earned their trust. This is something to bear when welcoming other animals into the home - dogs can't sleep when their guard is up!

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Happy & Content

It's easy to think that when our dog is not smiling, it means they are unhappy. However, a neutral dog face can be just as promising. When our furry friends look at us with no evident expression (such as below), they are simply content with their current state - excited, even.

Dog Tail Happy MeaningDog Tail Happy Meaning
@a_dood_named_wally via Instagram

Of course, every dog has its own catalog of faces which its owner should strive to understand. While the rules here are the general findings, each dog will have a particular way of telling its owner they are doing a good job. Spinning, tail wagging, and jumping - there are endless options.

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Uniquely Nasal

Every winter, someone likely reminds us that each snowflake is entirely unique - nature's approach to fingerprints. A far more useful detail to know is that all dogs can be told apart by their noses - with each one containing a different pattern from the next.

Dog Nose Sick SignsDog Nose Sick Signs
@brubear_and_brothers via Instagram

For this reason, it's worth studying your dog's nose carefully in case of an emergency! Considering the fact that dogs can smell their way out of a potentially dangerous situation, and given that it can help them stand out from the crowd, we recommend protecting that nose at all costs!

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Fake Sneezing

Speaking of noses, there's even something to be learned from a dog's sneezing pattern. Rather than signal a bout of allergies the way it does for us humans, it can reveal insights into their moods. If the canines begin to sneeze mid-play, it sends a clear message that they're enjoying themselves.

Dogs Sneezing Meaning HappyDogs Sneezing Meaning Happy
@teddy_miniyorkshire via Instagram

These adorable pets are even known to let out a fake sneeze occasionally, wanting to communicate their happiness to their owners without having to pause their game. It's an almost guaranteed way to know that a dog is excited and means no harm to anyone around them.

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Too Much Sleep

One of the first telltale signs of depression or anxiety in humans is a tendency to oversleep. This applies to our canines, too, and can help owners to know that there is an underlying issue. If your dog is hitting the hay more than it regularly does, it's worth taking them to the vet.

Dog Sleeping Patterns ExhaustionDog Sleeping Patterns Exhaustion
@fluffykondor via Instagram

Of course, if they've recently increased their level of physical exercise, this is an expected result. Additionally, if they're younger, they can tire out more quickly. But, if everything else in their routine has remained the same, something might be going on. Better to be safe than sorry!

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Getting the Zoomies

Many different animals, such as dogs, can catch what we call the zoomies. This is the term used to describe the sudden burst of energy they will experience with no understandable trigger. It manifests as rapid and intense activity, running around in circles, for example.

Dogs Zoomies Energy ExcitementDogs Zoomies Energy Excitement
@mr.ram8819 via Instagram

But, just as quickly as it started, it can pass, and the dog will come to an immediate halt. From an outsider's perspective, this can seem like erratic and concerning behavior, but in actual fact, there's nothing to worry about. On the contrary, it's a sign your dog is healthy and blowing off some steam.

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Territorial Males

Taking a dog for a walk can be an exhausting and challenging task. From the distractions to the stops and starts, it can take thirty minutes to walk down the block. If the dog is a male, it's worth bringing some snacks along because that furry creature will be stopping by every tree or bush in sight.

Male Dog Territorial PeeMale Dog Territorial Pee
u/aleagueofmyown via Reddit

While they stroll along the street, these male dogs keep their eyes peeled for spots where other canines have already done their business. When located, they will proceed to mark their territory there with their own pee, lifting their leg to cover as much space as possible.

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Dogs have a variety of ways to let us know when they're down to play. Some of them take matters into their own hands and pass their owners the ball to be thrown. Many dogs will send strong hints by whining by the front door, and others will do the sploot.

Dog Sploot Meaning ReasonDog Sploot Meaning Reason
@msmooandmae via Instagram

A position heavily associated with Corgis, this term describes when dogs lay down on their belly and look up in their owner's direction with pleading eyes. They lie there, vulnerable and desperate, waiting patiently for their human to provide instructions. They know how hard they are to resist!

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Lean on Me

We give our dogs all the support and comfort they require and hope they will learn to lean on us in times of need. Funnily enough, when they begin to lean on their owners in the physical sense, this signals the desired connection has been established between them.

Dogs Leaning Owners ProtectionDogs Leaning Owners Protection
@teddy_theshibainu via Instagram

Dogs will only flop over and lean on others when they sincerely care about the human in question and want you to protect them, even while they zone out. It's the best type of dog hug a person could ask for and means they are in a supportive home. Sit back and embrace the moment!

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Toy Attachment

When we were younger, many of us had a significant emotional attachment to our soft toys or blankets. Whether we were going to the supermarket with mom or playing in the park with our friends, we tried to keep it by our side for comfort at all times. Dogs, too, can assign this value to an inanimate object.

Dogs Toys Attachment SentimentalDogs Toys Attachment Sentimental
@askthefurrygodmother via Instagram

However, be warned! Just like with toddlers, the beloved toy can easily be misplaced - possibly resulting in a separation meltdown! Keep your eyes on the metaphorical (or actual?) ball at all times - there is, ironically, no playing around when it comes to these sentimental objects.

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The sound of a dog singing is music to its owner's ears. No, not because they're singing in perfect pitch, but because it signals that their pet is happy and healthy. Our canines can let out their barks in a musical way, something they do only when they're feeling their best.

Dog Singing Bark MeaningDog Singing Bark Meaning
@lou_nique via Instagram

For those looking to perform a duet, open up the piano and watch your dog feel the rhythm. They may even start belting out a tune when you return home from the office, showing you they're excited to be reunited. We'd love to see a Dog Idol coming to our screens soon.

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