Woof! Woof! Wag! Wag! (How to speak basic ‘dog’)

Is that a happy woof? That dog doesn’t look happy. Why is his tail wagging?

It seems to me that not so long ago we mostly believed we should be wary of a woof and welcome a wag.

I think most people know now that it’s not like that. In fact, we have come to know that dogs have excellent communication skills in their own language. They can even learn words and phrases in our human language.

When I teach kids how to be safe around dogs in the Be A Tree program, I show the kids what to do if a strange dog approaches and scares them or if their own dog gets too frisky. The program also uses big photographs of real dogs who communicate very clearly by their body posture whether they’re welcoming or would prefer to be left alone.

For example, do you know that when a dog licks its chops, he is asking you to leave him alone or at least give him some space? That’s an easy one to watch for. Look for it the next time you see a person and a dog interacting.

Would you know to observe a dog’s body language before rushing up to pet it?

When a dog is relaxed and welcoming

  • his entire body is soft
  • often his tongue is out and he’s panting;
  • his eyes are soft (not focused) and
  • there’s a lazy or enthusiastic tail wag.


Conversely, a dog who is focused on something

  • will have an air of alertness about him…ears up and forward,
  • his eyes are focused,
  • his mouth is closed
  • his tail is probably still.


This is NOT a dog you want to greet right now. He’s busy. He’s otherwise occupied.Please respect that.

Have you seen a kid hug a dog? Bet you have.Did you, by any chance, notice the dog’s reaction? Dogs don’t like to be hugged although many of them have learned to tolerate it from their people. Next time you see a dog being hugged, look at the dog and see what you can read in his body language.

These are some signs to look for:

  • If the dog turns his head away,
  • If you can see the white part of his eye
  • If he is licking his chops

He’s asking the person to please leave him alone.


Dogs  easily read the subtleties of our body language because that’s how they communicate dog-to-dog.They observe the tiny shifts in our bodies. Have you noticed that when you’re “thinking” about taking your dog for a walk, he’s already at the door? He has read the many tiny shifts in your body that indicate a walk is imminent – shifts you are not even conscious of.

In its most sophisticated form, speaking ‘Dog’ is a highly skilled practice. For most of us, a few easily observable tips will suffice.


A Welcoming Dog

  • Mouth open
  • Perhaps panting slightly
  • Looks happy
  • Entire body looks ‘soft’
  • May be wagging its tail gently or enthusiastically


A Stay Away Dog

  • Mouth closed
  • Eyes focused…sometimes white is showing
  • Forward body stance
  • Looks alert
  • Ears forward
  • Tail up
  • Yawning
  • Raised forepaw
  • Licking its chops


Everyone benefits from knowing these simple things to observe.

Doggone Safe has put together the Be A Tree program which teaches this and many more keep-safe tools to groups of kids. Check it out at: Be A Tree.com

If you’re part of a group that would like to offer this program, I am a licensed Be A Tree presenter. Contact me.

Are you an adult who fears dogs? I can help. Call me at (604) 989-6969

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