Researchers Decode 19 Common Canine Gestures

Listen up! Your dog’s got stuff to say to you, and if you know what to look for, you’ll be able to listen! Researchers from the University of Salford in England have figured out what 19 of the most common dog gestures mean, and what your dog wants you to do when you see them.


A lot of us like to think we know what our dogs are trying to tell us, and sometimes we’re pretty good about figuring it out (mostly). Now, though, researchers from the University of Salford in Manchester, England say that they’ve figured out what 19 of the most common dog gestures mean, and what they want humans to do in response.


Their results have been published in the Animal Cognition science journal, and they claim that they’ve observed and analyzed 47 different gestures in dogs. Of the 47, they feel confident they’ve deciphered 19, and not so surprisingly for any pet lover, dogs are trying to ‘talk’ to us more about affection the most.


Related: Study: Dogs Talk To Us With Growls and Barks


Researchers have long known that puppies as young as six-eight weeks are able to pick up on the gestures humans make, and to follow understanding when humans do things like pointing in certain directions. As dogs grow older, they continue to learn and process and respond to visual and oral signals from us, including the way we move our hands, bob our heads, or even look off into a certain direction.


When our dogs make certain gestures, however, we aren’t always quite so…intuitive, are we? That changes now, with the new guidelines the researchers have given for interpreting dog gestures.


But us? We have trouble comprehending even the basics. So welcome to Dog as a Second Language class, as presented by the researchers. No more, “What is it Lassie?” type behavior from us!


When a dog wants to be scratched or pet, they tend to behave in the following ways:


  • Rolling over in front of you
  • Pressing its nose against you or another object
  • Licking you or an object
  • Lifting a paw and placing it on you
  • Gently and repeatedly biting down on your arm
  • Shuffling slightly along the ground while rolling over
  • Lifting a back leg while lying on its side
  • Rubbing its head on you, while leaning against you


Additionally, when they are more interested in food, water or even a little treat, you can expect them to do the following:


  • Nuzzling your hand with his nose and nudging it toward a spot on the body
  • Holding one paw in the air while sitting
  • Turning its head on a horizontal axis, usually looking back and forth from the human to an apparent object of interest
  • Standing on its hind legs
  • Using its mouth to throw a toy forward


Related: Study: Having a Dog Makes You More Attractive


If your dog is looking for a little quality play time with you, expect them to:


  • Lifting a single front paw to briefly touch an object or person
  • Plunging headfirst under an object or person
  • Placing a single paw or both paws under an object to retrieve something of apparent interest
  • Moving its entire or part of its body under an object or a person’s appendage


And, if a dog is looking to go outside, or come inside, they’ll do most likely do these things:


  • Lifting both paws off the ground and resting them on an object or person
  • Jumping up and down off the ground, person or an object, usually while staying in one location


To any of us pet parents, many of these may not be super surprising–I mean, a dog’s life pretty much is feed me, pet me, play with me, isn’t it?


But now, maybe you’ll be able to get those in the order your pup wants!

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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