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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Beachy

Guess What?! Your Dog Doesn’t Speak English!

Updated: Aug 29, 2022


What do you say when your dog misbehaves or catches you off-guard? Something like this:

  • “He salivates for the moment to misbehave! As soon as I leave, he’ll jump on the couch.”

  • “My dog is manipulating me!”

  • “They are trained not to chew my shoes! They’re making me mad on purpose!”

  • “He snapped my daughter’s fingers out of nowhere! She was just playing on the floor right next to him!

….and the list goes on. Any of this sound familiar? Do you catch yourself saying something like this when your dog is misbehaving? Let's talk about it!



For 14 years, I developed and delivered communication skills workshops to help people improve communication in their work and personal relationships. I would begin class with a simplistic model of communication. Explaining there is a sender, a receiver, and the message, then ask: “Communication should be complete and simple, right?” A giggling class would chime in, “wrong!” Perhaps you just got a giggle too, recalling back to a miscommunication. The reality is, barriers to understanding create “communication misfires” and foil the whole process. These barriers such as emotions, assumptions, vantage points, noise, distractions, and of course, language create different perceptions! Now, apply the concept with your dog; you exchange roles as senders and receivers, striving to convey a message to each other. Simple, right? [giggle] Nope! You don’t speak the same language!

Your dog does not speak, or necessarily understand English (or any other spoken language)! In fact, studies show that a dog does not have the ability to differentiate words with similar sounds; for example “sit” and “set” (Magyari, The Royal Society Publishing, 09 Dec 20, 22 Jul 22, https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.200851). Now, through patient and positive training, you will teach your dog the relationships between a desired behavior and cue.


How do dogs receive information? They primarily receive information through their noses! The information you and I might gather from each other in a verbal conversation, a dog would gather through their nose. According to an AKC article, depending on breed, dogs have 100 million scent receptors; a hound dog could have 500 million! Put that in perspective, our human noses have only 5 to 6 million. The article continues that the information a dog receives is far more detailed and complex, with a “vomeronasal organ located between the roof of the mouth and the bottom of the nasal passage.” This helps a dog detect pheromones used for communication. (Gibeault, American Kennel Club, 07 Nov 19, 22 Jul 22, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-does-my-dog-sniff-everything/).


How will your dog send information? Through body language! The more you get to know and understand your dog’s body language, you will understand the messages more clearly. For example your dog may appear at quick glance to be fine with the busy and fast-moving child playing next to him on the floor. Train your eye and you may see your dog is actually tense, panting, and avoiding contact with the child; suddenly snapping “for no reason” to the untrained eye!


You and your dog communicate with each other, through your own primary modes of communication that differ completely. It takes time, practice, and focus! Practice grace with your dog, and yourself! Your dog primarily receives information via the nose and scent, and communicates information via their body language. Humans primarily receive information by what we hear, see, and read; we send information in a similar way. Humans, sharpen your body language reading skills, and apply patience while your dog learns cues, and watch your tone and body language. We infuse emotion in our communication process. Dogs get confused by this sometimes. Be cautious not to project frustration on your dog and have a resulting communication misfire!


Want the 4-1-1 on body language basics? Here are examples. This list is not an entirety, and is meant to provide a sampling. Consult with me, your dog trainer or veterinarian, or read books focused on body language for a complete list and how to handle some of these situations.



Easygoing and comfortable body posture: Your dog is feeling good about where they are and how it makes them feel.

  • Scan their body - nothing is fixated or tense.

  • Tail might be wagging.

  • A happy mouth, relaxed and not tense.




Playful: Your dog is ready to play, perhaps with another pup or with you!

  • Tail wags, often in full-force :)

  • Ears perked in a positive and excited way.

  • A play bow, with the hinny in the air and the front paws out, chest low to the ground.

  • Mouth open and “smiling” with the tongue visible.






Engaged and “on watch”: Your dog is aware of stimuli and checking it out to decide how they feel about it.

  • Focused eyes, ears, and body.

  • Stance is tall and forward-positioned.

  • Tail is straight up.

  • What I call, “Chihuahua Mohawk”. The raised hackles from the back of the head/neck, straight down their back.

Stressed, to extreme stress: Your dog is in a situation that has raised their stress level. They are letting you know, they really just want out of it. Just like humans, dogs have varying stress thresholds, responses, and coping skills.

  • Yawning

  • Excessive sniffing the ground.

  • Frozen in place.

  • Not making eye contact.

  • Tight wrinkled muzzle and chattering teeth/shaking.

  • Big, scared eyes.

  • Panting and drooling


Defense: Your dog is perceiving a threat and would rather retreat from the situation. However! If forced to, they are likely to protect themselves.

  • Eyes are big. You can see the fear in their eyes.

  • “Chihuahua Mohawk.”

  • Edges of the mouth may be pulled back.

  • Ears pin backwards.

  • Tail between the legs.

  • Their stance is low (cower) and backward-positioned.


Offense: Your dog is perceiving a threat and is experiencing an aggressive state. He or she is ready to respond to that threat.

  • Everything is tense in their body language.

  • In addition to body language, you will probably hear growls.

  • Eyes are focused and dilated.

  • The mouth is closed, though teeth may be showing and the muzzle and nose wrinkled.

  • If not standing in place, the dog’s movements slow.

  • Tail is straight and fixed and the “Chihuahua Mohawk” is presented.

  • Their posture is very tall and forward-positioned.

What can you do to improve your understanding of your dog? Here are some tips:

  • First, dispel false beliefs! Your dog does not have the capability to manipulate. They learn what is rewarded and they aim to please you!

  • Manage your environment. If you have a chewer, remove items they gravitate toward to chew! Don’t leave them unattended, and close off areas you wouldn’t want them to wander off to and find something to destroy.

  • Ensure your dog is well exercised and mentally engaged daily! This is critical to good behavior. They are not telling you they are angry when they get into mischief when this need is not met. I compare it to the moments in life I am in a boring work meeting that trails on too long and I get fidgeting, and perhaps snippy in responses.

  • Practice obedience training daily, throughout the day in short 10-15 minutes spurts. This engages the mind and helps reinforce what you are teaching them. Also! Training develops and advances your dog’s cognitive ability and improves their self-control.

  • Catch your dog doing good and reward. If you don’t reward calm behavior they won’t realize calm behavior is the goal.

  • Sit back and watch your dog, become fluent with the body language they exert and what happens next.

  • Have food puzzles available for your dog when you have tasks to focus on. When I’m on the computer is usually the time Porsche needs face rubs. Having home-made food puzzles keeps her busy and allows me to complete my busy work! (See my “Busy Activities” blog in the Fun Dogs category)

  • Take time to play with your dog, and have fun! It builds bonds and stronger bonds with your dog leads to better behavior.

Get to know your dog’s language, give them time to understand yours, and enjoy great connections!



Aloha, Barks, and Howls,

Melanie Beachy

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