How to Speak Dog; Communication is Key

Have you ever been at a dog park and seen two dogs get in a fight? Or heard of a dog that viciously attacked another dog “out of nowhere?” In reality, it’s never out of nowhere. These dogs show signs of fear and/or aggression, signs that often go undetected or get overlooked.

Dogs obviously do not speak English but they do have their own communication clues that you as a pet parent are responsible for learning. This will prevent so many problems and may save your pet’s life.


Happy and confident dogs keep their tails and heads high.

“Knowing when your dog is fearful or agitated or even in pain are all important things to learn,” behavioral therapist and expert dog trainer Beverly Ulbrich says. “You want to teach your dog to be relaxed and comfortable so they don’t do harm to themselves or others when they are not feeling well, emotionally or physically.”

Let’s go over some signs you should look out for; if you see your dog exhibiting these behaviors, you should address it immediately.

Tail Tucking and Hiding

A dog who tucks his tail tight between his legs is afraid. Another sign of fear is hiding behind your legs, under the bed, or where ever else he can find.

“If a dog is tucking his tail and/or hiding behind you, benches, etc. to try to get away from other dogs, you need to get help from a professional to get him over his fears before he starts becoming aggressive to protect himself,” Ulbrich says.


Yellow is tucking his tail here and looking a little spooked by something but not totally afraid since his ears are still forward. He’s alert and interested.

Ulbrich says fear usually turns to aggression around 18 months of age when a dog moves into adulthood.

“At some point because these emotions and reactions are very closely related – the fight or flight syndrome,” Ulbrich says. “Therefore, fearful dogs often end up biting in reaction to their emotion.”

Each dog will respond differently to training for getting over fear.

“It depends on their age,” Ulbrich says. “Puppies can be more easily pushed through it with a nudge or a cookie. Teaching and reinforcing curiousity over fear is an important part of raising a puppy. With older dogs, you might need some slower-paced reconditioning to get them to be comfortable with the stimulus that’s affecting them.”


Sure we may think it’s “cute” when our dog hides under the bed or behind objects but it’s a fear issue that needs to be addressed, not ignored.

Yellow has made leaps and bounds in getting over his fear but it’s important to remain vigilent so your dog doesn’t fall back into old habits.

Posturing Over Other Dogs

Dogs sometimes try to assert dominance over other dogs. They can do this by stealing a bone or ball, humping or simply by posturing. Posturing is when a dog puts his head over another dog’s neck or back and just stands there, or he might jump around a little. Usually he is very stiff, waiting to see how the other dog responds. If the other dog “submits,” then it’s usually fine. But if the other dog challenges by growling or snapping, it could escalate to a fight.

“If your dog is posturing over other dogs or humping other dogs, you should stop him then and there before it escalates to a fight,” Ulbrich says. “If this is a pattern, seek professional help to teach your dog proper ways to interact.”

Dog-on-Dog Aggression

Are you afraid of coming into contact with other dogs on a walk for fear of what your dog may do? Avoiding other dogs, not allowing other dogs to sniff or growling/snapping at other dogs are all unacceptable behaviors.

“You need to get some help before that escalates,” Ulbrich says. “Of course, if your dog has only snapped once in a year and it was at an obnoxious puppy, then you don’t have to worry. But any pattern of this kind of behavior needs to be addressed before it escalates. The dog will not just ‘grow out of it.'”

Also be aware of how you’re feeling. Dogs are adept at picking up on their owner’s emotions and this plays into their behavior, good or bad. If you tense up, your dog will tense up, too.


Both dogs are being a little shy and avoidant here. Sundown’s head is slightly averted from the larger dog.


The dogs warmed up to each other after Mommy showed Sundown the proper way to greet this harmless dog. It’s hard to tell from a still photo but they were running and playing together for almost an hour.

“Naturally, we’re embarrassed if our dog barks or lunges at another dog,” Ulbrich says. “Our stomachs drop, we cross the street, we turn around, we walk our dog late at night when no one else is around. But when we cringe, we’re letting our dog know something is wrong. We set our dog on high-alert. Now he feels he has to protect his scared owner as well as himself.”

We suggest getting advice from a professional on how to stay calm and in control when interacting with people and dogs.

Resource Guarding

A dog guarding food or bones is normal behavior in nature but it is not welcome for domesticated pets in our homes.

“Companion dogs should trust us to take dangerous things out of their mouths and listen to us when we ask them to get off furniture,” Ulbrich says. “We should be able to easily take food and toys away. Just as a child should not get mad at you for removing his dinner plate, your dog shouldn’t mind you taking his bowl.”


Sundown nailed it! His tail is up, showing no fear. His head is high, showing he’s confident. And he’s hoping his puppy-dog eyes and non-threatening approach will score him some snacks from these strangers on the beach.

But all too often, people do not appropriately respond to the signs of resource guarding, especially in two-dog households. For instance, if two dogs fight over the food bowl, the owners start feeding them separately. If they fight over rawhides, the owners take rawhides away.

“You’re removing the obstacle and not fixing the problem,” Ulbrich says.

It’s important to stop the cycle as soon as possible before it escalates to aggression.

“Once a dog realizes that growling or snapping keeps people and other dogs from taking her prized possessions, it’s all downhill from there,” Ulbrich says. “People and other dogs back off, and the dog becomes more confident that it’s her role and duty to protect her stuff.”

This may have been the case with Miley Cyrus’ dog Lila, who was attacked and killed by Cyrus’ other dog, Ziggy. Ziggy was subsequently rehomed. Cyrus’ mother said Ziggy attacked for “some unknown reason.” We think it’s likely Ziggy exhibited one or more of the behaviors we’ve discussed here.

“There are so many signs,” Ulbrich says. “It’s not always that owners don’t see the signs but they don’t think it’s a big deal. They think the dog doesn’t mean anything by the behavior and they don’t understand how much or how quickly it can escalate.”

At YDB, we’re here to help. Stay tuned for future video segments showcasing dog language and how to interpret it.

4 thoughts on “How to Speak Dog; Communication is Key

  1. Pingback: Are Pets Good for Newborns? Six Common Myths Busted - Good Dog! Magazine

  2. Pingback: 7 Dog Breed Stereotypes | Yellow Dog Blog

    • I completely agree! It’s frustrating how many people don’t take proper care of their dogs, especially when it’s rather easy to catch and change bad behaviors! Thank you for the comment!

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