Sure, dogs can learn to recognize human words and singular commands. The number of commands they can learn can sometimes reach into the hundreds with patience and perseverance. Despite this amazing ability, no dog is capable of comprehending the meanings behind complex human sentences; human speech is a secondary form of communication to them.

Using a precise set of visual cues, on the other hand, a dog can speak entire volumes in a fraction of a second! Your dog is telling you what’s on his mind every second of every day- you just need to learn to watch him.

  • Learning dog ques and communication is very helpful in a daycare or dog park environment.
  • All these visual cues (tail wagging, for example) will always be accompanied with other visual cues. Dogs use their entire bodies to send signals and communicate (ears, eye contact, tail, body posture) with every thought, not just one part.

Is this dominant aggressive or submissive, defensive aggression? Hint: Look at the ear position.

Dog Tail

A dog’s tail is like an antenna, a beacon for other dogs to pick up on, and usually the very first thing people notice, probably the best indicator of a dog’s mood. Is the tail wagging rapidly, almost causing the dog’s entire body to vibrate (happy excitement)? Is it point straight backward (interest, focus) or curved upward?

Rigid, highly held tail: Aroused, ready to react

Tail tucked or held tight to body: Submissive, frightened or injured

Neutral or low position: Content, relaxed (can also indicate fatigue)

Wagging rapidly: Excitement

Highly held w/ slow wag: Could indicate imminent action

*What is this dog thinking? Hint: Notice the ear position.

Dog Ears

Not only do they help augment a dog’s hearing, able to rotate in order to face a sound and enhance hearing, a dog’s ears are heavily used in dog communication. Have you ever seen your dog’s ears lie flat against his head? How about standing up rigidly, pointing straight upward?

  • Ears will usually ‘point’ toward whatever the dog is focused on.
  • Various breeds, such as hounds, will have more difficulty manipulating ears that tend to droop.

Neutral Position: Relaxed, content

Pricked, forward: Attentive, playful

Low, flat against head: Submissive

Body Posture

Is your dog standing tall and rigid, staring intently? Or is he crouched, slouching his back in a curve, trying to make himself look smaller? A certain type of body posture will accompany these other signals when displaying one mood or another.

Slouched, low body posture: Submissiveness

Tall, rigid posture: Alert, Dominant

Judging by his tail, body posture and ear position, how is this dog feeling?

  • Direct eye contact can be considered a challenge to a dog’s dominance. This is why your pets will often look away rather than staring you straight in your face.


Remember, dogs are constantly relaying their feelings and thoughts all of the time! To understand dog communication, you just have to be willing to pay attention.