Dogs are better at reading our emotions and body language than we are at reading theirs. So here’s a primer on how to communicate with your dog – and read what they’re saying to you. This comes from Dr. Clive Wynn, who runs the canine cognition and behavior lab at the University of Florida. To start, he says stop with the words. We’re talking for our own benefit – but dogs just interpret it as senseless babble. Body language is your dog’s native tongue.

  • If you’re meeting a dog for the first time, don’t stand in front of it, extending your hand. When you loom over a dog, you’re doing what dogs do to intimidate each other. Instead, crouch down on their level side by side. That’s non-threatening.

  • Next, don’t hug a dog. It can feel restraining and putting your chin on their shoulder is what dogs do to show dominance. If you want to show affection, rub their chest. That lifts their head and gives them a dose of self-esteem.

So how can you read a dog better?

  • Well, if a dog’s ears are forward, its mouth is closed and its tail is up – that’s a threat. If you don’t want to be bitten, look away, yawn or blink. That shows you’re not dangerous in dog language. So why yawn? What does that mean to a dog? It’s a calming gesture. Dogs will do it when they’re stressed to calm themselves down and other dogs around them. You can use it if your dog is scared by thunder. Let out a big yawn to help calm them down.

  • What does it mean when your dog turns away from you? That’s how it copes with confusion. It’s like you checking your phone to avoid a conversation with someone. So if you want your dog to give you some space, turn away from the dog and look off in the distance. Your dog will leave you to sort things out on your own.