Martin Rütter Tips: How to interpret the dog’s signals correctly

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Martin Rütter Tips: How to interpret the dog’s signals correctly

Fortunately, word has got around among most dog owners that wagging their rods does not always have to be an expression of dogged joy. Rather, the four-legged friend generally signals his excitement, which can also be due to aggressive behavior, for example. Only those who know the meaning of the canine signals in the respective context can respond appropriately to the needs of their four-legged friend and make it clear to them: “I understand you!” This understanding is the basis for a harmonious relationship between humans and dogs.

Communication between humans and dogs: 5 causes of misunderstandings

Communication only works perfectly where both communication partners link exactly the same information content with a certain signal. An example:

Ms. Weber practices the “sit” signal with her 13-week-old puppy Loui in the garden. She stands in front of her dog and says: “Loui, sit!”. If Loui does not react as desired, but stops, this can have different reasons:

  • Dog did not perceive the signal: Perhaps he did not perceive the signal because Ms. Weber said the word “sit” so softly that he simply could not hear it.
  • Hund does not know the meaning of the signal: It could also be that Loui has not yet learned the meaning of the signal and therefore has not yet mastered it.
  • Dog is overwhelmed: Or the distraction during training is still too great for Loui, so that he cannot reliably execute the signal in different contexts.
  • Dog is physically impaired: Maybe Loui cannot sit down simply because it causes him pain.
  • The holder’s body language does not match the signal: If Loui lies down on the “Sit” signal, it is also possible that Ms. Weber’s body language is the cause of this misunderstanding of communication. Loui may find his mistress’ bent over posture threatening and he would like to signal to her by lying down: “Please stop your threatening behavior, I don’t want an argument with you.”

Interpret the dog’s signals correctly!

In order to recognize what is the cause of the non-reaction of your dog, Ms. Weber must carefully observe Loui and recognize the following signals:

  • Does he show soothing behavior because he feels threatened?
  • Is it sending stress signals due to pain or being overwhelmed?
  • Didn’t he notice the acoustic signal?

If there is a communication misunderstanding, the sender, Ms. Weber, is responsible for ensuring that the recipient, Loui, understands you correctly – not the other way around.

“We humans should take a much closer look and get involved in the language of dogs rather than constantly expecting them to understand us.” (Martin Rütter)

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So after observing Loui and recognizing his signals, Ms. Weber must react accordingly, e.g. B.

  • changing their own body language and straightening up,
  • Loui has a veterinary check-up and treatment,
  • made the training of the signal easier by z. B. trained indoors instead of in the garden,
  • or simply say the signal louder again.

Observe the dog and interpret body language correctly

Dogs do not communicate with each other or with us with words, but use their bodies for communication. How the other dog stands, how he holds the tail, where the weight is shifted to, how long the eye contact is or how the other dog moves from A to B, all these signals give the dog an impression of the other person. Therefore it is very important for the coexistence of humans and dogs to deal with the body language and communication of dogs.

This is how dogs communicate

A finely differentiated communication system is available to dogs for communication. Dogs communicate via:

  • optical signals (posture, movements),
  • Touch (tactile signals),
  • Smells (olfactory signals),
  • and sounds (acoustic signals) when gestures and facial expressions are insufficient.

Using an example, let’s take a look at how dogs make each other and us understandable.

Optical signal: posture

Ms. Dose is out and about with her four-year-old Hovawart dog Cora. After Cora has been freed from the leash, she walks purposefully to every tree and bush with a high carried rod and proudly swollen chest and sniffs there very intensely. With her impressive posture, Cora shows how she perceives herself and how her surroundings seem to see her. Cora is obviously not an insecure or fearful dog. Cora radiates self-confidence through every fiber of her body, she wants to be perceived by her social environment through her upright posture and her self-awareness is confirmed.

Olfactory signal: mark

If Cora finds another dog’s marking point, she lifts one of her hind legs, crouches over this point and leaves some urine there herself. Then she scratches extensively. In addition to the use of visual signals such as B. the posture, a large part of the dog communication goes through the sense of smell. That Cora’s behavior is not just about emptying her bladder can be seen from the scratching, because this is a clear sign that Cora wants to demonstrate her own status as well as clarify her territorial claim.

Optical signal: movement

The culprit, who dared to set scent marks in Cora’s area, appears – Willy, a six-year-old German shorthaired male. He is on the road with his master, Mr. Rabe. Since Cora regards the promenade as her territory, she feels that Willy’s uninhibited movement is a provocation. With a straight back, tail carried high, ears pointing forward and a slightly springy gait, Cora runs a few steps towards Willy as if she wanted to tell him: “Can’t you see that you are on my property? Get out of here!”

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Optical signal: appeasement

Willy stops, lowers his head a little and avoids direct eye contact. With his submissive posture, Willy clearly demonstrates that he is not after an argument. Such gestures of humility are not a sign of fear, rather they are intended to defuse threatening or tense situations.

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Optical signal: threatening posture

Willy’s dilemma: follow your master or avoid your opponent? In the meantime, Mr. Rabe has gone on. But Willy doesn’t move a meter, because Cora’s posture has suddenly changed. She tenses every muscle in her body and appears stiffer. She erects her tail even more, shifts her weight onto her front paws, lowers her head slightly so that her head and back form a line. Cora’s hair on the back of her neck is standing up, she gets a so-called brush. The corners of her mouth are short and round, and the roots of her ears are pointing forward – and she remains in this position. All these signals show that Cora has taken an offensive threatening posture, she wants to convey to her counterpart: “Now is really the time for you to leave! I mean it!”

Error: Holder does not recognize the signals

Herr Rabe sees Willy’s behavior as a sign of disobedience. With a harsh tone he yells: “Willy, come here immediately!” Willy is now in a dilemma. On the one hand Cora tells him unequivocally not to approach any further, on the other hand he gets in trouble with his master if he does not run to him immediately, but to do this he would have to walk past Cora. Willy’s stress level increases significantly, he begins to yawn and pant.

It is up to the owner to recognize the signals and solve the situation

If the two owners recognized what was happening there from the dog’s point of view, they could easily clarify this situation: Either Ms. Dose calls her dog over and leashes her or Mr. Rabe goes to his dog, stands in front of it and asks Ms. Dose to take her Bitch go by. But unfortunately you see again and again in the park that many people do not recognize or do not understand the signals of their dogs.

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Error: Holder sends back wrong signals

And so Mr. Rabe also insists that Willy come. When he moves in the direction of his master, and thus also in the direction of Cora, Willy attacks. Frau Dose immediately ran in the direction of Cora, cursing loudly. Both dogs are collected and leashed by their humans. Fortunately, since Willy continued to show soothing behavior after Cora’s attack, both dogs are not injured. Cora experiences the scolding of her mistress as confirmation, she feels strengthened in her right to territorial defense and will continue to drive other dogs out of her territory in the future. Willy, on the other hand, has learned to avoid Cora from afar in the future. Much worse, however, is that he has also learned that he cannot rely on masters. This does not recognize threatening situations, rather demands the impossible precisely then. The relationship of trust between Willy and Mr. Rabe is severely disturbed!

Rules of communication between dog and owner

When dogs communicate with each other, it is about communicating concrete intentions to act and the underlying motivations behind them. Dogs are very social creatures and communication serves to regulate social interaction, i.e. to promote cooperation and avoid conflicts. Through their expressive behavior, dogs make it clear how they see themselves in relation to another group member, what interest they have in certain resources and what state of feeling they are. When meeting other dogs, we have to

interpret these signals correctly.

Understanding dog language correctly is a prerequisite for a good human-dog relationship

Communication is the engine for a harmonious relationship between humans and dogs, because only those who understand the other can make themselves understood to them. So sharpen your eye for canine behavior and get involved in your dog’s language, then sentences like “It happened all of a sudden, out of the blue!” or “Why is he doing this?” soon to be a thing of the past.

About the author:

As one of the first DOGS coaches, Marc Lindhorst has been at the side of dog owners in the Kiel and Lübeck area with advice and action for twelve years. More information at and

Read more tips from the DOGS coaches.