Decoding Canine Behavior: Insights into Common Dog Behaviors and Their Meanings

Have you ever wondered what's happening inside your furry friend's adorable little head? Well, you're in for a treat! Our four-legged pals have their own unique ways of communicating with us, and understanding their behaviours can be like cracking a secret code. 

And with over 66% of U.S. households today owning a pet, there is no doubt that understanding our canine companions is more important than ever. From wagging tails and barking to digging in the couch cushions, here's a quick dog guide to help you decode your canine companion's behavior:

Tail Wagging

While tail wagging is often associated with happiness and excitement, the tail's speed, height, and position can convey different emotions. For instance, a wagging tail held high and moving in broad, fast strokes usually signifies excitement and joy, while a lower tail wag with a slower pace might indicate caution or submission.

Other emotions that can be communicated by tail wagging include:

  • Agitation and preparedness: When a dog is alert to a perceived dangerous situation, it stands with its tail raised and ears up. This posture infers that the dog is watching out for danger and is ready to confront whatever is coming.

  • Submission: Most dogs show submission by lowering their tails and tucking them between their legs. This is a way of communicating that they are not interested in challenging the dog or the person confronting them.

  • Aggression: When your dog wants to portray aggression, it may move its tail from a neutral to a vertical position, arching over its back. In most cases, the higher it raises the tail, the greater the threat. These tail raises also help release the dog's anal gland's scent, further conveying its aggression to other dogs and marking its territory.

  • Curiosity: When a dog is curious, it may hold its tail out in a straight, horizontal position. This signals that it is studying something in its environment that's piqued its interest.


Dogs bark for various reasons, including alerting their owners to potential threats, expressing excitement, seeking attention, or showing frustration. Like tail wagging, the context and pitch of the bark can offer clues about their emotional state and what they are trying to communicate.

Continuous and high-pitched barking might indicate distress or fear, while the usual rapid and playful bark signifies excitement. On the other hand, a low-toned bark that almost sounds like a growl or a rumble is a warning sign. It's your dog's way of saying 'back off.' A bite or an aggressive stance often follows this sound to show its displeasure.

If your pup wants something like food or a treat, it may bark in a sharp, playful, and repetitive manner, often accompanied by jumping and running around you. Similarly, if it sees something of concern in the distance, it will start barking in a high-pitched staccato rhythm, alerting you of impending danger.

Ironically, most wild dogs rarely bark. When they do, it's often an alert for danger and a call for backup. However, they howl, whine, growl, and rumble.


Whining is a form of vocalization often associated with anxiety and worry. However, dogs also use it to express discomfort, pain, attention-seeking, or happiness.

Your dog may whine while begging for food, treats, or table scraps. This is characterized by a low-pitched sound with a bit of urgency. Similarly, your pet may whine when distressed, especially when locked away from the family or left alone. It's a way for them to vent their emotions and garner sympathy.

On the other hand, puppies often use a higher-pitched whine to let their mother know they are hungry or need comfort. When in pain or distress, your pet may emit a high-pitched whine that goes even higher towards the end. Conversely, a happy whine is often characterized by a neutral-toned sound that goes down towards the end.

If you suspect your pup is in pain, it's best to take it to the vet for a check-up. Otherwise, pay attention to its behavior and try to recognize when it whines as a sign of distress or anxiety.


Growling is a sign of aggression, often accompanied by bared teeth and fur standing on end. It's a warning to back off that should not be taken lightly. Most dogs use growling as a form of communication when they feel threatened or intimidated. They may also growl to show dominance or protect something they consider their own.

There are three different types of growls in canines. They include: 

  • Warning Growl: This type of growl signals that the dog feels threatened or uncomfortable and wants space. A warning growl is deep, guttural, and menacing, with low rumbling, often accompanied by other signs of aggression, such as baring teeth and fur standing on end.

  • Fearful Growl: Dogs may growl when they are afraid or anxious. This is how they express their unease about a particular situation or stimulus.

  • Playful Growl: Some dogs may emit a softer, medium-pitched growl accompanied by a wagging tail during play. This is a friendly and non-threatening form of communication, and it's usually not a cause for concern.

Most dogs know the different types of growls and what they mean. Some researchers found that dogs respond differently to a warning growl than a playful one. When the researchers played different pre-recorded growls to the dogs in front of a desirable bone, the dogs reacted more cautiously to the warning growl than to a playful one, often grabbing the bone when a playful growl was used. So, decoding the meaning of your dog’s growls is key to understanding what it needs.


Chewing is an instinctual behavior for dogs, especially during their teething phase or when they are bored. Puppies and young dogs will often chew on toys, furniture, or other items as a way to soothe their gums. If your pup is chewing on something it shouldn’t be, try redirecting its attention with an appropriate chew toy.

Adult dogs may also chew out of boredom or stress. When this happens, make sure to give them plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them from feeling restless.

On top of this, chewing can also be a sign of separation anxiety. If your pup is feeling anxious when you’re away, it may result in destructive behavior, such as chewing to calm its nerves. Providing your pup with a safe, designated area to stay in while you’re away, along with some interesting toys, can help curb this behavior.


Is your doggo channeling its inner wolf? Howling is a normal behavior for dogs that stems from their wild ancestors as a way to communicate and locate other pack members. However, this doesn't mean that your pup wants to reunite with other dogs.

Most domesticated dogs often howl at loud noises, such as sirens or music, house bells, and alarm sounds. They may also howl at us when we do it for fun. Sometimes, your dog may howl to try and locate you or get your attention when it feels anxious, stressed, or ignored.

If you notice your pup howling more than usual, it may mean they’re feeling lonely or stressed. You can try to help them by giving them plenty of exercise and affection when you’re around.


Licking is a natural canine behavior associated with affection, love, and comfort. Dogs often lick their owners as a sign of affection, similar to how people kiss one another. It's their way of saying they love you or get your attention. Dogs also lick to explore and investigate things - whether it's their food bowl or you. They may even use licking as a form of submission or appeasement when being scolded.

Furthermore, dogs will often lick themselves or each other for hygiene and bonding purposes, going back to their wolf ancestors who used to groom and clean one another. This behavior is completely normal and healthy for a dog, so don’t be alarmed if you see your pup licking away!

However, excessive licking can sometimes be a sign of stress, anxiety, or discomfort, especially if your dog is licking a particular spot on its body. It may also suggest that your pup is in pain, itchy, or feeling nauseous.

Nipping and Mouthing

Puppies often nip and mouth as part of their play and exploration. They’re still learning how to interact with people and other animals, so it's important to redirect their behavior gently and train them to have a soft mouth and discourage aggressive nipping.

In adult dogs, nipping might be a sign of overexcitement or an attempt to communicate discomfort or boundary issues. If your pup is feeling fearful or anxious, it may be more inclined to nip and mouth at people.


Digging is an instinctual behavior in dogs, which can have various motivations. They may dig to create a den-like environment, escape confinement or boredom, hide prized possessions, or seek cool ground in hot weather.

If you have a pup that loves to dig, make sure they have plenty of exercises, enrichment activities such as puzzles and food dispensing toys, and supervised time outside. Provide them with an area or sandbox where it’s allowed to dig. You can also reward your pup when it stops the behavior or redirect its attention elsewhere.

Rolling Over

Dogs roll over on their backs to indicate submission or a desire to be petted and receive belly rubs. Rolling over is also a sign of trust, relaxation, and vulnerability. If your pup rolls over in front of another dog, it’s an invitation to play. However, before petting your dog when it rolls over, ensure it is comfortable.

If your pup is rolling over excessively or in response to a threatening situation, it may be a sign of fear or anxiety. In this case, it’s important to create a safe and calm environment.


Jumping in dogs refers to the act of propelling themselves off the ground with their front paws to reach a higher position or make contact with a person or object. Dogs may jump for various reasons, and it's essential to understand the underlying motivations behind this behavior:

  • Greeting: Jumping can be a way for dogs to greet humans or other animals. Puppies often jump to reach the face of their owners, mirroring how they would approach their mother for attention.

  • Excitement: Dogs may jump when they are excited, such as when their favorite person comes home or during playtime.

  • Attention-seeking: Jumping can be a dog's way of seeking attention, especially if they've learned that it gets a reaction from their owners.

  • Dominance: In some cases, dogs may jump to assert their dominance over people or other pets, especially if they perceive a lack of leadership. This jump usually includes a bark or growl.

While jumping can be endearing in small dogs or puppies, it can become problematic or even dangerous, particularly in larger or more energetic breeds. Uncontrolled jumping may lead to accidents, cause injury, or create discomfort for some people. Proper training and consistent reinforcement of appropriate behavior can help curb excessive jumping and teach dogs more non-threatening ways to interact with humans.


Dogs use their paws to touch or interact with people or objects around them. While this behavior can be cute, it's important to recognize its purpose. Some possible motivations for pawing include:

  • Attention seeking: Pawing can be a dog's way of requesting attention from its owner. This is especially true if they have learned that pawing gets them the desired response.

  • Requesting Something: Pawing can be a way for dogs to communicate their desires, such as wanting to go outside, get food, or play. They may even paw their owners to alert them of an intruder.

  • Expressing Affection: Pawing can also be a sign of love and affection. Dogs may gently paw at their owners as a display of bonding and closeness.

  • Stress or Anxiety: In some cases, dogs may paw when feeling stressed or anxious, seeking comfort and reassurance.

  • Habitual Behavior: For some dogs, pawing becomes a learned behavior reinforced over time, even if the initial purpose or meaning has faded.

While pawing is often harmless and endearing, it's essential for dog owners to pay attention to the context and underlying reasons behind the behavior. Consistent training can help manage pawing if it becomes excessive or unwanted. Encouraging alternative ways for dogs to communicate their needs and rewarding calm behaviors can promote more harmonious interactions between dogs and their human companions.


Dogs experience the world predominantly through their sense of smell. Sniffing is their way of gathering information about their environment, other animals, and people. Allow your dog to explore and sniff during walks, as it provides mental stimulation and allows it to satisfy its natural curiosity.

Sniffing can also be a sign of interest or stress. If the sniffing is accompanied by other signs, such as increased heart rate or panting, it could indicate anxiety. When meeting strangers, some dogs may sniff excessively out of fear.

Bottom Line

Remember that each dog is an individual, and their behavior can be influenced by genetics, environment, past experiences, and current emotional state. Paying attention to their body language, vocalizations, and overall context can give valuable insights into their feelings and needs. If you're ever unsure about your dog's behavior or if it becomes problematic, seeking guidance from a professional dog trainer or veterinarian is always a good idea. Proper pet care, exercise, and enrichment can also help ensure their emotional and physical well-being.

Want content like this?
Hire a vetted writer on Draft

Get Started

Other samples

Eco-Friendly Product Email Campaign

Explore EcoLiving's Earth Day sale for high-quality, eco-friendly products that blend style and sustainability. See why our customers love our reusable shopping bags, biodegradable cleaning products, and bamboo kitchenware.

Online Course Email Campaign

Unlock your digital marketing potential with SkillUp's transformative and comprehensive course. Act now for a limited-time 20% discount. Lead the digital evolution!

FinManage Email Campaign

Explore our new feature for instant financial reporting, offering a mobile, efficient solution for your business finances. Dive in and experience the future of financial management.