Your Dog is Talking, Are You Listening?

Observing Canine Behavior

As a dog trainer, I observe behavior. All kinds of behavior.

People behavior.

Birds at our bird feeder.

And of course, dog behavior.

When I’m in a client’s home I’m always observing the dog, watching the dog, “listening” with my eyes as well as listening to the client with my ears.

Most of your dog’s communication is done quietly. A head turn, a yawn, a stillness in the body or a lip curl. 

Dogs will communicate how they are feeling, stressed, anxious, happy, with their body movements. 

So many times, people will say to me, “He didn’t mean to bite me” or “His teeth are just so sharp.”

Your dog’s body movements are not random. Just like your body movements are not random. 

I’m sitting on a train as I write this and I’m acutely aware of where my arms are, where my legs are especially when I cross them. I don’t want to poke my neighbor or trip someone in the aisle. Nothing we do is random.

Your dog knows where his mouth is and what he’s doing with it. Just like you know where your hands are and what you are doing with them. 

Everyone understands the growl, the bark, the lunge etc. I hope so, these are HUGE signals. Yet, your dog has communicated in many micro body movements BEFORE he ever gets to the barking, lunging part. 

But we miss the small communications. 

Barking, growling, and lunging is equivalent to when a parent yells, “Stop yelling at your sister!” or “If you don’t stop poking each other, I’m going to stop the car!” You get the idea.

Most of us have been communicating our intentions long before we start yelling, right? We might make observations, “Sounds like your sister is saying she doesn’t want to play.” However, there is a tipping point where we are frustrated, worried, even scared and we lash out verbally at our kids, our spouse, a neighbor, even a store clerk. 

Well, your dog is exactly like you. He has a tipping point where he is frustrated, worried, scared or anxious and he lashes out, he yells! (growls, barks, snarls, bites…)


Interpreting Dog Body Language

He is communicating all the time with micro body movements that go unnoticed by 99% of pet parents. Some small mostly unnoticed body signals:

 Yawning – a sign of stress

 Panting when it’s not hot – a sign of stress

• A full body shake off – trying to regulate his stress or “shake it off”

• Staring at something or someone – not a friendly sign

• Getting small, tucking his tail, putting his ears back – appeasement signals, often mistaken for “feeling guilty”. Dogs are not moral beings. He’s not guilty.

Your dog is asking for something, usually more space from you, from another person or from another dog. When you start to recognize and notice what your dog is communicating fear, stress, or pre-aggression, you are in a much better position to be proactive. To intervene before the growling, barking and lunging begins. 


Recognizing Stress Signals

When you notice three or more stress signals it’s time to step in and help Fluffy out of a potentially bad situation.  

When my daughters visit with their young children, I carefully monitor Gio who has not been raised around young kids and ha s a history of being hit by a child once when he was a wee pup. Not surprisingly, he is very nervous and cautious around young children. When I see him start yawning and scratching at his neck, I remove him from the situation and give him a brain toy to keep him busy and provide some stress relief. I would never force him to stay in a situation where he is clearly uncomfortable. 

Yawning does not mean your dog is tired. He is internally stressed.

Scratching at the neck is another sign of stress. It is not a case of fleas.

I heard one of the best podcasts interviews with Kim Brophey, author of Meet Your Dog, recently, where she stated that dogs and humans have co-evolved for thousands of years. Dogs have learned to read OUR body movements, listen for important words, ex: “Do you want to go for a RIDE?” but we, the human end of the relationship, have NOT learned our dog’s language.  

This is so unfortunate. Our dogs deserve better from us. 

Isn’t it time you learned what your dog was saying? I think so.

Your dog is communicating ALL the time, let’s start listening.

Believe me, your dog will thank you.

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been working with people and training dogs for over 30 years. Everything Dog provides services to clients throughout the Monadnock Region of NH as well as online services to clients throughout the United States.

Denise has been published in the trade journal, Chronicle of the Dog, and writes a monthly column for Everything Dog’s Monthly Newsletter. She also contributes to AtHome magazine, and APEX award winner. She has been an expert witness for dog attacks. She also hosts a monthly “Ask the Trainer” radio show on WKBK. Denise lives in Keene with her life and business partner, Amy Willey CPDT-KA, and they share their home with two dogs. She has three adult daughters and two grandsons!

For more information, visit On YouTube at Everything Dog.

Denise Mazzola

Denise Mazzola


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