Woofs, Wags and Whines


“Dogs are man’s best friend,” goes the popular saying. Has anyone stopped to wonder why this is so? According to the famous nineteenth century novelist George Eliot, “animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” That’s what everyone looks for in an ideal companionship – a silent, non-responding patient listener. Dogs would have been as difficult to get along as it is with people had they the ability to speak. But quite contrary to this notion, every person who pets a dog understands that dogs are living and feeling creatures that wag, whimper and whine just to get your love, attention and care. Dogs do speak and these are some of their ways of communicating with us. This article looks into the different means through which dogs connect with us and bond for life.

Unlike humans, dogs depend on sounds and body movements to express their feelings and emotions. Scent, body language and vocal sounds are its primary tools of communication in the order of importance. We greet each other with a hello or a hand shake while dogs greet each other through sniffing. They sniff us too only to greet us and read what’s in our minds. Dogs don’t just simply know us but they understand us through their sense of smell. They know when we are sad, happy, excited, tired or sick. Sniffing is usually followed by licking which is again a way of acknowledging us and showing affection.

According to recent studies by a group of ethologists, that includes Dorit Feddersen-Petersen at Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, dogs almost always bark for a reason. Based on the differences in frequencies, two types of barks can be identified – noisy and harmonic barks. Noisy barks indicate defensive and official threats, social insecurity and physical distress. Harmonic barks, on the other hand, relate to active and passive submission or signal an invitation for social play. In general, higher-pitched barks are inviting and friendly while lower-pitched growls are threats or warnings.

After the worst possible day at office when you reach home, you see your dog all excited and wagging his tail joyously to greet you. This instantly brings a smile onto your lips and changes your mood. A dog wags his tail in different ways to convey different needs. Some may be to bring you closer and some may be to warn you away. Dogs wag their tails enthusiastically when they are very happy, inviting you to play or anticipating a treat. He wags his tail in a relaxed manner when he’s pleased and content. When you find your dog’s tail tucked in between his hind legs, you should understand that he is feeling scared and insecure. An erect and motionless tail indicates your dog is angry or aggressive and ready to bite.

Dogs depend on us for all their needs. Whining and whimpering are the ways they get their message across to us. Some dogs, especially the toy breeds are ultimate attention seekers. They whine simply to tell us that they want us to spend time with them. Some others are just expressing their fussy nature through their whimper. Usually, dogs whimper when they are hungry, feeling alone, needs a walk or wants to poop. But in some cases, dogs may express their physical pain or discomfort through whining. So you should really be on the lookout for tell-tale whining signs to figure out whether your dog is simply putting on a show, really is in pain and needs help or just missing you a lot.

Eyes are the windows to a dog’s soul. Watch the movements of your dog’s eyes closely and you will know what he is saying. Relaxed and droopy eyelids suggest pleasure, happiness or contentment. Eyes wide open indicate alertness. If your dog stares at you unblinkingly, he is challenging you and if he’s averting his eyes he is being submissive and obedient. The moment your dog’s pupils dilate and he flashes his teeth, he is all set to attack. The positions of the ears indicate a dog’s various moods. When your dog is happy or interested in his surroundings, his ears will be up and forward. Your dog’s ears will be tilted forward and head absolutely erect along with raised shackles when he is considering an aggressive attack.

Dogs have a strange habit called marking which involves peeing in small amounts on whatever they feel belongs to them. As discussed earlier in the article, dogs communicate with scents and this is the principle behind marking. Marking through urinating indicates possessiveness, establishing its territory, dominance or availability for mating.

So in retrospect, George Eliot was right in saying that dogs make agreeable friends as they don’t pass judgments or ask questions, in spite of the fact that they can speak. They keep mum only because of their unconditional love for us. They do everything they can to please us in their special way. It’s high time we started returning their love and affection. The first step would be to make a positive effort to observe your dog closely and learn what he is trying to tell you. Dogs are not linguists and dog language is not rocket science. Simply spend quality time with your dog and then listen to the language of your heart and senses to communicate with your canine companion and see how it will change your dog’s life as well as yours.