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How dogs communicate

Virginia Chavez is a Phoenix-based freelance writer covering pets and lifestyle in the Southwest. In addition to regular contributions both online and in-print, Virginia locally owns and operates two pet care and supply businesses. For t...

canine body language

Pets have their own way of communicating without words. As pet parents, we like to guess what our pets are saying to us by their actions and body language. While we may be right at times, we can't help but wonder: If pets could talk, what would they say to us? What do they say to each other? Read the following tips to find out what your pet may be saying to you and his four-legged counterparts.
Woman getting licked by dog

Tail-wagging is not always a sign of happiness

For dogs, a high and stiff tail means your pup is feeling tense about the situation at hand. This is an indication that your dog is on guard to protect his turf. On the other hand, a low and fast-wagging tail signifies feelings of nervousness and submission. "Happy tails" are often neutral and combined with calm body language such as relaxed ears and mouth. Front paws down and a perked-up and wagging rear end typically indicate that your pup is ready for playtime.

Licking is another way pets express love

Non-pet parents may think it's "gross," but getting a lick from a loving pet is equivalent to receiving a kiss from a human. When dogs lick a human's hand or face, they are expressing affection and establishing a bond -- the same holds true for dogs that lick each other. While the main purpose may be for grooming, when two dogs lick each other they are communicating signs of appreciation.

Who can resist puppy-dog eyes?

Often, those big, adorable, puppy-dog eyes are a clever tactic to get treats, but dog's eyes say much more. Beware of intent stares from a troubled pooch, as it can suggest aggression and threatening behavior. When placed in uncomfortable environments, some canines are known to give strangers the "whale eye," where you can sometimes see the whites of their eyes. Be cautious of the side-glare whale eye, as it signifies an on-guard and frightened pup. If a dog stares at you with relaxed facial expressions and a playful demeanor, it is likely they are looking for your companionship and attention. Pets with submissive demeanors will avoid contact with other dogs as their way of keeping the peace.

What pets won't express is what pet parents should be most concerned about

Unlike some people, pets tend to "deal with" pain or feelings of illness. Rather than whine or yelp, dogs tend move forward as best as they can with the situation at hand. It is up to us, as pet parents, to recognize signs that our pets are feeling ill. Look for signs of limping, lethargy, excessive thirst and any other behavior that may be out of the ordinary for your pet. Talk to your vet immediately upon noticing any changes in your pet to ensure a speedy recovery.

Watch: How to talk to your dog

Chances are when you're cooing to Fido, all he's hearing is, "Blah, blah, blah." Stop annoying everyone around you -- and learn to speak his language.

More tips for dog owners

Kids and puppies: Rules, safety and responsibility
How to keep furniture in good condition with pets at home
Alternatives to kenneling your pets

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