Gestures: What is Your Jack Trying to Tell You?

Dogs are adept at reading our gestures. They can follow your finger when you point, look at your eyes to see what you're staring at, and you can teach them to respond to hand gestures just as you might to a verbal command.

But dogs make gestures, too. Do you know what they mean? Some are pretty obvious, but others? Not so much.

Researchers at the University of Salford in Manchester, England identified 19 specific dog gestures. From these, they boiled down four messages that our dogs are trying to send us.

What were those messages?

Message 1: Pet Me/Give Me Attention

The dogs in the study signaled that they wanted attention or affection in several specific ways. You might have guessed the first one: rolling over for belly scratches. Here are a few others:

We all know when our dog is asking for a belly rub!
  • Moving their head up and forward toward your hand
  • Scootching along on their back in the “belly rub” position
  • Putting one back leg in the air while lying on their side
  • Standing on their hind legs
  • Pressing their nose against you
  • Licking
  • Lifting one paw and resting it on you
  • Rubbing their head against you

Message 2: Get Me That, Will You?

Sometimes your dog wants you to retrieve a specific object for them. But how would you know that? And how would you know which object? Look for these signs:

  • Lifting a front paw to touch the desired object
  • Crawling under your hand toward an object
  • Sitting and holding out a front paw toward an object
  • Turns their head from you to the object they want
  • Going head-first under you

Message 3: It's Snack Time

When your pup starts to dance around as dinner time approaches, it's a pretty strong signal. But our dogs have other ways of telling us to throw the dog a bone. These include:

  • Moving their head forward and up, as if to direct your hand
  • Standing on their hind legs
  • Jumping up and down in one location
  • Using their mouth to flick a toy at you

Message 4: I want (generalized)

Your dog may also use the same gesture or set of gestures to tell you that they want different things. The researchers found that these gestures, when done directionally at a specific object, can mean “I want….

  • Your dog looks at you, looks at what they desire, then looks back at you
  • Sitting and holding one paw in the air
  • Reaching a paw toward the object of desire
  • Standing on hind legs and resting their front paws on you

If Only Dogs Could Talk

You might find yourself thinking this from time to time. But rest assured, a lot of times our dogs are thinking if only humans would listen!

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