Just because dogs can’t speak doesn't mean they don’t communicate. Anyone who has a dog can tell you just how clever they can be when it comes to getting their point across. Still, many pet parents aren't always certain what their dog is trying to tell them. Whether it be a strange bark or unusual body language, the cues they give can be misinterpreted.
For a better idea of what your dog is trying to tell you, here is some common "dog speak."
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1. Tail Wagging
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Broad, sweeping wags at medium height = Happy, playful behavior
High, tight, rigid wagging (almost vibrating) = Dominant or aggressive behavior
Pointing straight back = Paying attention
Low wagging = Confusion (especially when their head is cocked)
Between the legs = Scared, nervous, threatened behavior
2. Ear Position
Erect ears = Outgoing behavior (either side of the mood spectrum -- erect ears can mean anything from playful and attentive to dominant and aggressive)
Ears back = Submissive behaviors -- the tighter the ears are to the head, the more submissive they are being. Ears flat back are a good sign your dog feels like they are in trouble or threatened. Remember, just because they are being submissive does not mean they are safe to approach. Many dogs are just as likely to strike out of fear as out of aggression.
Open, tongue out = Happy, playful behavior
Open, baring teeth = Aggressive (especially when muzzle is pulled back)
Baring teeth with head down = Submissive, especially if they poke out their tongue to lick you
Upright, chest out = Dominant behavior
Walking low or cowering = Submissive or scared
Front legs low, butt up = Playful behavior
Barking = Attention seeking behavior (motivated by anything, whether it be fear, dominance, aggression, or something else -- look to other cues to understand the root of the barking)
Whining = Bored or anxious behavior, could be due to a feeling of neglect
Growling = Aggressive or threatened behavior
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“Baby-talk” is not the best way to communicate with your dog. While we see it as a cute or loving tone, dogs associate higher register vocalizations with the sound of prey animals. So when you speak to them with baby talk, you end up sounding like food.
Yawning is a great icebreaker in dog-speak, in that it shows them that you are relaxed. If you yawn at your dog and they return the gesture, they are being calm and inviting, letting you know that it is safe to approach them. Yawning, along with slow blinking, is a great way to let new dogs know they can let their guard down around you.