Talking Dogs? Researchers Translate Dog Body Gestures

Dog standing

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As dog lovers, we all have conversations with our pooches. In terms of actual words, those conversations are pretty one-sided, but dogs have their own ways of communicating, and they remind us that sometimes you don’t need words to express your love. Still, most of us have wondered what our dogs would say if they could talk the way we do. Well, researchers have conducted a study and come up with translations for some of our dogs’ common gestures. Sure, the pooches aren’t speaking English just yet, but this is pretty cool, too.

The study was published in the journal Animal Cognition and used observations of 37 dogs in their homes with 242 videos (taken by owners) of the dogs’ common gestures that they used throughout the day. The result was that researchers developed “translations” for 19 common gestures among the canines. It’s important to keep in mind that 37 dogs don’t make up a great sample size of the entire population of dogs, but these results may be a jumping off point for further research into canine body language. It’s also important to note that there was some overlap in gestures and meaning, so these translations might not be accurate every time. Take a look at the researchers’ translations and see if they match for your dog!

“Pet Me”

Owner rubbing his dog belly, in grass.

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It may not be surprising for some of us that the dogs had the most variety of gestures when it came to conveying that they wanted physical contact. Dogs have many different ways of saying, “Pet me,” and here are the gestures that express that.

  • Rolling over in front of you
  • Pressing their nose against you or an object
  • Licking you or an object
  • Lifting a paw and placing it on you
  • Gently biting your arm
  • Short shuffles along the ground while rolling over
  • Lifting the back leg while lying on their side
  • Rubbing their head on you while leaning against you

“Feed Me”

Of course, we all know how good dogs are at letting us know when it’s time to eat. There are a few gestures that dogs have for saying, “Feed me,” and maybe you recognize a few of these in your own dog.

  • Using their snout and head to move your hand to their body
  • Holding a paw in the air while sitting
  • Turning from side to side and looking between you and another object (like a bowl or cabinet where the food is kept)
  • Standing on their hind legs
  • Using their mouth to throw a toy forwards

“Play With Me”

A young Shorkie Dog (cross breed of a Yorkshire Terrier and Shih Tzu)chews on a red toy im the family home

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Dogs are kind of like perpetual children, so play time is very important. Dogs have a few ways of letting you know that they want to play. Here are a few indicators that it might be time to bring out the toys.

  • Briefly touching you with one paw
  • Diving headfirst under you or an object
  • Reaching a paw toward an object of interest
  • Wiggling their body beneath a person or object

“Open The Door”

Many of us know the “I have to go potty” dance that means our dogs need us to open the door for them, so you may be familiar with these gestures. Here are some of the things your dog might do if they want you to open the door.

  • Lifting the front paws off the ground and placing them on you or an object
  • Jumping up and down in the same location

Do these translations match with your dog’s gestures? What does your dog communicate to you most often with their body language? Let us know in the comments below!

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