Dog Communication: How Dogs Talk to Humans and Each Other

Dog communication is made through body signals and sounds. Both body signals and sounds are complex and dogs use these to communicate with other dogs, pets and humans. Understanding dog talk can bring you closer to your pet and give benefits to your relationship.

Dog Communication Systems

Dog communication systems are essential for dogs; without being able to communicate, dogs are unable to have social interactions. The main dog communication systems are:

  • Sniffing signals
  • Sounds
  • Tactile signals
  • Visual signals

These systems are used both in the dog to dog communication and in dog to human communication.

Sniffing Signals

Dogs have a strong sense of smell, a sense that is better developed than in humans. Pheromones are common dog to dog communication signals and transmit various messages starting from sexual availability to the marking of territory. The pheromones are secreted through urine and feces and other body secretions.

Dogs also like to sniff humans when they meet them, to be able to identify them.


The sounds are the most well known form of dog talk.

Dogs may transmit basically 4 types of signals:

  • Alarms to let the owner or other dogs know of a possible threat
  • Approaching signals to locate himself and other dogs

Distance signals

Infantile signals during the period in which the puppy learns the signals of adults Dogs use barking, growling, howling, whining or whimpering to transmit different messages to humans or other dogs and animals. Hearing and sounds are important for animals, especially for reproduction and survival.

Puppies have less vocal signals that adult dogs, however, puppies learn the sounds as they grow.

Dogs are able to hear higher frequency sounds, up to 67,000 hertz, so they may easily detect where a signal is coming from.

Tactile Communication

Licking is another way of communicating among dogs. Dogs may recognize another dog or person by licking him. Puppies start licking to recognize others at 3 weeks.

Visual Communications

Dogs may use body language to express different things. The postures of the dog, as well as the facial mimic contribute to the meaning of the message.

Dogs use ears, head, lips, teeth, tail, feet and legs, eyes and eyebrows to communicate.

Dogs may express through visuals several instances:

  • Submission
  • Threat
  • Playfulness
  • Sexual tension
  • Sexual availability
  • Excitement
  • Self confidence

The language of dogs is complex. For instance tail wagging may have different meanings according to the context. Tail wagging may be a positive signal such as happiness, playfulness, excitement or anticipation, but may also mean anxiety, reassurance, reconciliation or submissiveness. A bark may mean happiness or that the dog is in distress; it all depends on the intensity and frequency of the barking.

As a dog owner, you need to be able to interpret your dog's signals, so as to be able to train and educate him into a sociable and friendly pet.

Dog signals may also communicate a dog's mood or if he is ill or stressed, so understanding him may help you get vet assistance in a timely manner.