How do dogs show affection?

Written by Dr. Colleen Fisher  | Published on: 4/23/2020


Dogs have evolved to read us way better than we will ever understand them. Their ability to anticipate our needs and emotions is the glue that holds our human-animal bond so tightly. We can do our part to return the favour and learn more about what our dogs are saying to us.

How dogs show affection through body language and other cues

 
  • Licking starts when puppies lick their mom’s mouth to encourage her to regurgitate food for nourishment. Puppies learn they are rewarded for this behavior from an early age. As they get older, it’s important to teach other ways of showing affection to prevent compulsive behavior or spread of germs.
  • High wagging tails or helicopter tails are a sign of an affectionate, happy dog. Dogs tend to wag their tail slightly to the right when greeting people or animals they know and like. However, not all tail movement is happy. Watch for the “slow and low” tail or wagging between the legs, which are both suggestive of fearful and anxious emotional states. Straight back, rigid tails can be a sign of frustration or aggressive intent.
  • “Puppy dog” eyes are often seen when a happy and relaxed dog is begging for attention. Watch for dogs showing the whites of their eyes or staring up at you while keeping their head, which are signs that they feel threatened.
  • Your dog’s ears might come forward and perk up to the sound of your voice to show that he’s listening to every word you say. Ears pinned against your dog’s head or twitching backward are signs that your approach may be intimidating.
  • Relaxed lips and soft mouth can also be a sign of affection. Affectionate dogs have no tension in their lips and will softly mouth toys and people arms and legs without using teeth. Dogs who show their teeth with tight lips and low posture are often fearful and may bite. Some dogs do “smile” by showing their teeth through soft lips but often these dogs are wagging their tails, have bright eyes, and come to you with enthusiasm. If you aren’t sure, be cautious and ask the pet owner if their dog likes new people.
  • Posture. You know your dog is happy when they lean into you and relax their head against your legs or your shoulder. Scared or cowering dogs are very tense and may even tremble. If a dog is actively backing away, allow them to retreat to a safe place.
  • Vocalizations. Affectionate dogs have a lot to say. You may hear murmurs, mumbles, yips, and barks during play or when you walk through the door at the end of the day. Low-pitched growls and barks are warning sounds meant to show a dog does not like its present situation and may try to escape or bite.

How important is it that I know what my dog is saying to me? 

Dogs have retained those puppy-like traits to show their love for us, but we have a responsibility to love them back as best we can. Alert and caring dog owners learn about their individual dog’s body language, vocal patterns, and behaviour. They understand what happiness and affection look like but are also keenly aware of their dog’s response to stress, fear, and frustration. Understanding your dog’s communication style creates a solid foundation for building confidence and ensuring a positive relationship between you and your canine kids.