of Celtic Oak

of Celtic Oak Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Speaking Dog. What's your dog saying?

Speaking Dog. What's your dog saying?

Speaking Dog. What's your dog saying?

One of the most common mistakes owners can make with their dogs is to misread what the dog is saying into something completely different. We humans do it all of the time. The dog's body language says one thing, and we interpret it into something completely different basing our assumption on what we ourselves are feeling. When in reality dogs see and read the world much different than we humans. If we humans better understood our dogs we could prevent many dog bites and other behavioral issues.

Dogs and Hugs

For example lets take a simple act of a hug. To humans a hug means love and affection. When a human receives a welcomed hug from a loved one it makes us feel good inside.

But just what does a hug mean to a dog? Humans are always hugging their dogs and when we do we are giving the dog affection and sharing our love. However what most humans do not realize is to a dog a hug is not affection at all. To a dog a hug symbolizes a social status ranking representing dominance and an invasion of space. Lower members of the pack give space to the higher members as a show of respect. The position of the body is also meaningful to a dog. The one on top represents a higher status ranking. Therefore when you bend down and wrap your arms around a dog you are not only on top, but you are in their space.

Keeping this logic in mind, it makes total sense to not run up and hug a strange dog. Many children are bit every day by hugging dogs and if you look at it from the dogs perspective who would blame them? A stranger comes running over asserting dominance on a dog they have just met and the dog's reaction is to communicate to this being that they do not wish to be dominated. Unlike horses and deer who are "flight animals", a dog is a "fight animal" and will communicate his displeasure with a growl, and or a snap or bite.

That being said, it is not bad to hug a dog that is familiar with you if the dog is calm and in a submissive state of mind, so long as you are hugging them at a time when you are relaxed and happy. As a matter of fact the emotional sensation it gives the humans to hug can be felt by the dog, and that energy radiating from the humans can be very calming to the dog. Not because he is enjoying the hug, but because he is enjoying the calm he feels coming from you.

I watched a little girl come running over to a dog, giving the dog a huge hug. The little girl was overjoyed. You could tell she just loved dogs. I watched the dog's face. The dog's eyes were wide and he went somewhat stiff, as he turned his head up toward the being who was wrapping his arms around him. I saw him flick his tongue in a nervous way. While this dog did not bite this child it was clear the dog was not enjoying it. Had the child been hugging a more dominate dog the dog just may have snapped at her.

I then watched the child hug a second dog. The second dog was Bruno. Bruno lowered his head and allowed himself to be hugged. He, like the first dog, also flicked his tongue, but in a different way. His tongue came all the way out and back in as he tried to lick the child. His lick was submissive where as the first dog's lick was nervous. Bruno enjoyed the attention. He is just about as submissive as they come and enjoys any attention from any human he can get.

When you allow your children to hug strange dogs you are taking a gamble in the dog's reaction. Not even the owner can always predict what the dog's reaction will be. The proper way to greet a dog is to turn your body sideways, no eye to eye contact and allow the dog to smell you. That is greeting a dog in dog language in a non-confrontational way.

Human Interpretation

Here is another good example of how we humans assume our dogs have the same emotions and feelings as we have and put our own interpretations into a dogs reactions. This is a YouTube clip of Bonnie Hunt and her interpretation of this baby crawling over to the dog. Notice the emotion the clip draws from the human. The talk show host assumes the dog was bonding and acknowledging in a heart felt loving kind of way. The host is so moved by what is in that clip that she looks like she could cry. Overwhelmed with joy about what she believes is an emotional tie between the baby and the dog.

A lot of humans are going to watch this clip and attach their own emotions to what THEY interpreted the dog was feeling at the time the dog touched the baby back with his paw. But what is the dog really communicating? Is he overwhelmed with emotion because the cute little baby crawled over and connected with him? No, not at all. When the baby first crawled over and touched the dog's paw the dog sat up and looked to see what was touching his foot. Saw it was the baby. The dog then seeing it was the baby submitted by laying his head down. When the baby touched the dog's paw this submissive Boxer saw it as a game and was playing with the baby. But there was no heart felt emotional tie in the dog's mind like the announcer read into it. There was no strong feeling of affection felt by the dog when the baby touched his paw. The dog did not touch the baby back to show his reciprocated love. It was just a gentle game. The dog was playing. One thing we can all agree on is this clip is adorable and that Boxer is a very good dog.

When Bruno is laying down and I start to touch his feet he'll do the same. Start to move his feet because he thinks its a game we are playing. Not because he is emotionally connecting with my touch. Here is a clip where I touch Bruno's foot with a clothes hanger. Bruno sits up. When I touch his front foot he paws at it much like the Boxer who put his paw on the baby's hand.


I often hear people state that when they correct their dog for a bad behavior the dog sulks, leaves the room or turns his head because the dog is "upset". The humans interpret this behavior as the dog's feelings are hurt. They feel bad and believe they need to go and "make up" with the dog.

What is the dog really saying? If you correct your dog and he turns his head or leaves the room he is giving in to you and accepting you as his leader. Giving space or turning away from direct eye contact are submissive behaviors. When humans try and "make up" with a dog after the dog has given in to you, it sends confusing mixed signals to the dog.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Humans misread their dogs on a daily basis and on a wide scale of issues. I can't even imagine what it is like for a dog to be constantly misread and how confusing it must be for them. Most dogs do not wish to be the leaders, do not wish to run the show. They only wish to be secure with their pack and clearly know their status. However, they will take over when they do not see the humans as stronger then themselves. We humans would do our dogs a huge favor by trying to better understand them rather than just assume they are just like us.