Home > Cupcake, Daisy, Dog Behavior, Jasper, Pet Ponderings, Shelties > What are your dog’s behavioral communication cues?

What are your dog’s behavioral communication cues?

Buddy, Kolar and Tari vying for the ball. #sheltieplaydate

Sheltie play date – Buddy, Kolar and Tari

On Saturday, Cupcake, Daisy (our flat-coated Sheltie a.k.a. Lab), and Jasper attended a Sheltie play date with some other Shelties, including many from Minnesota Sheltie Rescue. It was a great chance to see all of them in motion, playing and chasing one another and obsessing over tennis balls needing to be tossed.

During the playdate, Jasper and Daisy had the chance to meet some children who came with their own little Sheltie, Joey. The kids did really well interacting with all the dogs and became quite the hit when they willingly threw the tennis ball for all the dogs – over and over again.

At one point, during all the playing and chasing, I noticed that the little girl was sitting in front of Jasper and was doing something with his paw. I couldn’t see exactly what, but I wanted to make sure everything was okay, so I asked her what she was doing. She said “I’m shaking his paw.”

It took me a second to realize what she meant. Then I started laughing. Jasper was lifting his paw and pawing at the her. Of course, she thought he wanted to shake paws (and, why shouldn’t she? Isn’t that what most dogs do?).

“He doesn’t know how to shake paws yet.” I said, “He wants you to rub his belly.” She immediately started scratching his belly. I laughed when Jasper practically fell over on his side so she could give him a quality belly rub. Silly dog.


Might I have a treat please?

It wasn’t until later that I realized how many of those behavioral communication cues my dogs give me. I’m not talking about the behavioral cues that most dogs use in communicating with other dogs, but the ones they use to let us know they want something. Behavioral communication cues like Daisy pacing back and forth between her kennel and the living room, her tail wagging wildly, which means she wants to go outside. Or, when Maggie paces back and forth in the living room and looks around as if she is looking for something. She really is looking for something. It is her cue to me that she needs more water in her dish. Or, when Jasper paces up and down the hallway, circles the coffee table, and goes back to pacing in the hallway. This is his signal that he needs to go outside and it is super urgent.

All my dogs (and Maggie) seem to have cues for a wide variety of things. Daisy and Jasper will paw at me when they want belly rubs, but Daisy will also sit at the other end of the couch, give me “the look,” and thump her tail. Maggie will glance at me over and over again and then move a little closer to me when she wants a bite of my peanut butter toast in the morning. Cupcake will put her paws on my lap and paw at me when she wants to go outside. She will also bark when she is excited and cannot contain it any longer. Dinner and treat time seem to be her most favorite times of the day. 🙂

There are at least 20 other behavioral communication cues I can think of where one or more of my dogs are telling me something without speaking. Yes, they’ve got me trained, but when think about it, I am glad they have these cues. It makes it a lot easier to meet their needs (and mine) when we can speak a similar language. Don’t you think?

So tell me, what are some behavioral communication cues your dogs give you? What does your dog do that tells you he or she needs or wants something?

Daisy. Giving me "the look".

Daisy. Giving me “the look”.

  1. July 21, 2014 at 10:58 PM

    The stare, the lean, the head planted firmly in my lap, a certain stretch which means he’s ready for his walk – there are too many to name! But agreed that it does make both of our lives better when we can read the subtle cues.

  2. July 22, 2014 at 2:46 AM

    Lately Tashi has determined I must be losing my hearing because I don’t run to the kitchen when the microwave dings. Of course he knows when it’s part of his dinner, so now runs from the kitchen to the living room and stops halfway wags his tail furiously and gazes at me. His sense of urgency made very clear! Don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in a long while!

  3. July 22, 2014 at 5:34 AM

    that’s cute that they paw on you for belly rubs… ok sometimes it’s uncomfy and a little painful… maybe we call it “bittersweet” :o)

  4. July 22, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    Whee don’t have a dog living here but the hooman has become quite good at listening to our different squeaks. She can tell pain from food, from talking, from anger, from happiness so she’s a keeper, hehe!
    The Pigs xx

  5. July 22, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    We all have tons of cues for Mom for different things and to let her know what we are about to do. Moms most important one is with Katie when she is off leash. Katie gives “the look” and before Mom can get to her she is off on an adventure. Luckily, she doesn’t do that much anymore, but it used to be the sign that Mom would be trying to catch her for a good hour or so. Now she isn’t real fast and only goes about 100 yds.

  6. July 22, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    I am a VERY well-trained person. These guys have all sorts of cues that they’ve taught me! When Lucas wants up on the leather chair – but the blanket isn’t spread out – he sets his chin on the edge of the chair and waits until I come spread the blanket for him. If I end up at my desk past the official dinnertime, Emmett crawls under my desk and bops my keyboard tray with his nose, signaling me to get up and put food in his bowl. Even Molly, who hasn’t been around us for too long, has taught me that when she sits in front of me and puts a paw on my knee, she wants me to pick her up and put her in my lap. I’m sure I can think of many, many more, but those are some of my faves! 🙂

  7. July 22, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    My dogs all let me know it is 5pm and dinner time by all howling at together. It still makes me smile. When Brut is outside at lightly barking at door, he’s barking for me to come out rather than for him to come in. Which I think is kind of cool. 🙂

  8. It's Dog or Nothing
    July 22, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    Atka will sit and stare at me if I don’t feed him dinner on time. They’ll both paw at me when they want their ears rubbed. They’re good at letting me know what they want 🙂

  9. July 22, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    I love how you always have me analyzing my dog’s behaviour in a new way. I mean that honestly. Just when I think I have her figured out, I realize there is so much I don’t know. Such is life with dogs, eh? I fear we will be doomed to miscommunication forever. Sigh. But at least it is never dull.

    The mental image of Jasper and the little girl was so sweet. I love hearing about such positive dog and child interactions. 🙂

  10. July 22, 2014 at 5:59 PM

    This is one of the most fun things about owning a dog or dogs, getting to know them and their personalities. Beryl and Asher’s cues are generally subtle and take some thinking about. As you’d expect, Frankie is easy, there’s not much fine print with him, it’s all written in large type 🙂 Like Jasper and the little girl who didn’t know what his pawing meant, it’s only when I have visitors (or people staying like now) that I realise how well I know my dogs and their cues. Loved your Sheltie playdate photos on Facebook 🙂

  11. July 22, 2014 at 8:28 PM

    Like you, there are many of them. Jack also does the pawing to get a belly rub. He also goes and stands in the kitchen next to the treat jar when he wants a treat. Maggie goes and sits by the backdoor when she wants to go out in the backyard. Sally used to stand in front of me if I was on the sofa and in the spot she wanted to be in. So many ways they talk to us.

  12. July 22, 2014 at 10:49 PM

    Neeko will look around, and if the boys are nowhere to be seen, she will give me very intense eye contact, followed by a short little yip. It’s her way of saying she wants a one on one walk with me. And it usually works.

  13. July 23, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    Ghost(my husky) will sit on my lap for a back scratch.

    • Mel
      July 23, 2014 at 11:14 PM

      THAT is very funny and cute!

  14. Amy
    July 23, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    My Bulldog Dexter has a variety of single to multiple barks in different tones to let me know when he wants out, wants water or wants in my lap on the couch.(and a few other things) all very distinct. I know exactly what he wants.

  15. July 24, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    I have a hard time trying to figure out what she wants although I know some cues mean something… I just can’t associate it with what… I shall just have to be more observant !!!

  16. Jesi
    July 24, 2014 at 7:25 PM

    My Dozer (Aussie) used to sit and stare at me in the morning until I’d get up and let him outside. Now he just sits by the door. If he wants to play he’ll come and put a toy next to me then stand and wait for me to throw it, and if I’m reading a book and don’t notice, he’ll go an get another toy. I once looked up from a book to find 7 toys on the couch next to me. That explained the annoyed look he was giving me.

  17. July 25, 2014 at 1:02 AM

    Both Jasmine (was) and Cookie (is) master communicators. Starting with a assortment of looks and facial expressions and ending with barking or pawing. Perhaps the funniest was what Jasmine did when she was getting something other than what she was supposed to be getting. Mainly pets instead of a walk. If you were supposed to get going on a walk and tried to pet her instead, she’d literally jumped away sideways from under your hand. Than turn and look at you, “No, dummy, try again, it’s walk time.”

    A friend once got his feelings quite hurt when she did that to him, until we explained to him what she was saying and that it had nothing to do with her not liking him.

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