Dogs communicate with each other using sound, scent, facial expressions and body positions. Their sense of smell is their most highly refined sensory ability and they use scent as their major means of communication.



When dogs respond to scent, they are actually responding to the chemical pheromones secreted in the scent. Pheromones are present in the dog’s saliva, faeces, urine, vaginal and preputial secretions, and in their anal, perianal and dorsal tail glands. The pheromones can influence immediate behaviour responses from other dogs, as well as long-term responses.

Pheromones communicate the dog’s social status, age, genetic relatedness, and its emotional and physiological state. When a dog sniffs the faeces and the anal regions of another dog it is finding out important information via the pheromones in the scent, including the other dog’s sex and sexual status.

Urine sniffing is another major way of communicating between dogs. Urine is a major source of sex pheromones. When a dog cocks its leg or sniffs the urine of other dogs, it is finding information on the other dog’s reproductive condition, and its authority and power.


Barking and other vocalisations are much less important for communication between dogs. They have five basic sounds:

1.      Infantile sounds made by pups: crying, whimpering and whining

2.      Warning sounds: barking and growling

3.      Eliciting sounds: howling

4.      Withdrawal sounds: yelping

5.      Pleasure sounds: moaning

Domestication and breeding has accentuated sound as a means of communication. Wild dogs are much less vocal than pet dogs. Barking, crying and whining are common traits in pet dogs, partly because the dog’s alarm bark was one of the first traits that our ancestors selected for.

Crying and whining is a learned response amongst adult dogs – they rarely whine at each other, only at humans. Puppies quickly learn to use whimpering and whining to get their owner’s attention. It can be controlled or diminished in puppies by not giving in to it and rewarding the puppy with food, affection or interest.

Howling is common in wild dogs and some breeds such as Dobermans, huskies and malamutes. In wild dogs it is used to assemble and coordinate spacing the pack members’ spacing in their territory.

Yelping is the most common withdrawal sound in dog. It communicates either distress or actual pain.

Facial and Body Signals

Emotions can usually (but not always) be identified by the dog’s facial and body signals. They use eye contact as a means of communicating authority. A dominant dog stares down less dominant ones and the submissive dog averts its gaze and exposes its neck.

What body signals mean: 

·         Calm – ears and tail are relaxed

·         Alert – ears and tail are up

·         Fear – crouched with tail between legs

·         Frightened – ears are flattened back, tail between legs

·         Abject submission – lying down, hind leg lifted, urinating

·         Aggressive – lips are pulled back and hackles, tail and rump are up

·         Increased aggressive – snarling with teeth exposed and a straight stance

·         Greeting – licking face, begging food, play bowing

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