The communication or, what is the same, the transmission of information from one person to another, is an essential aspect in the social behaviour of any species. Humans use a large range of signs to communicate to each other by means of words, gestures, through our eyes, and even through our way of dressing and grooming ourselves.
As it is obvious, the communication among dogs is less complex than amongst human beings, since dogs cannot speak. However they use signs from other senses like smell, sight and hearing.
Concerning the signs coming from the sense of smell, these are made through the urine and the perianal glands. Everybody knows that the way a male urinates is different from a female, since the former lifts one of its back legs up to do it, while a female dog squats down on her four legs. Males also urinate many more times than females, especially, those male dogs which have dominant aptitudes to mark the land where they are moving around. This behaviour is increased when the animal is aware of certain smells, above all coming from other dogs. They often raise their back leg up without urinating, so this posture must be considered a visual sign, the same as marking the ground by some animals, who scratch the ground after urinating. Dogs also recognise themselves through the smell of the pheromones of the anal glands. In fact, it is very common and to see dogs smell the bottoms of each other. Generally, the dominant animal keeps its tail up, and the submissive dog tends to have its down, making the inspection of the dominant one difficult.
The visual communication is especially important in dogs, as are the facial expressions and the postures adopted by the animals that are playing an essential role in the dominant relationships. A dominant animal usually keeps its tail up, the ears forward, and the extremities completely extended. Sometimes, the dog will put its front legs over the back of the subordinate one, looking at it carefully or it may place itself by its side, making the way closed. On the other hand, the submissive animal tucks its tail in, closes its ears and flexes its legs. Sometimes they adopt postures of extreme submission since the animal gets on its own side or back, separating the front extremities and showing the inguinal zone.
During the periods of aggressive behaviour, dogs adopt different positions depending on the kind of aggressiveness. When aggressiveness is offensive, the animal tightens its lips and shows its teeth, and the hair on the back bristles. When aggressiveness is defensive, the animal tends to avoid the direct visual contact, its extremities are partially bent and it may tuck its tail in as a sign of submission, or it could show the enemy its teeth.
Apart from these postures, there is another way that is shown when they want to play. It consists of keeping the front part of the body and the front legs on the floor, while the knees and the tail are up.
Finally, the hearing communication includes several kinds of sounds like groaning, barking and wailing. Dogs bark in different ways and in a great variety of contexts, so it can show as an aggressive predisposition as a way of catching your attention, a sign to play or a greeting. We can say that barking can give an ambiguous sign, although it is known that the tendency to bark seems to indicate a strong inherent element.
Article written and supplied by Paco,
Clinica Veterinaria Puerto de Mazarrón