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Dog Communication Secrets

 Reviewed 18 August 2019 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto

==> Dog Language is not just wordless but quiet!

Dog Language Translation Made Easy

Communication with our dogs is two-way: We want our dog to understand us, and we want to understand our dog.

In this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL we are going to look at both these areas, to see if you can improve the two-way communication between you and your dog.

Can you relate to a situation like the following?

You sit down to relax after a long work day, and your GSD is coming to join you. You are saying a few things to your dog, and you expect that (s)he understands you. You see and hear your dog's reaction, and you believe (s)he understood what you said.

Sounds familiar?

Of course it does. This is an ordinary situation when you have a dog.

It's always easier to learn from an example, so let's assume the following:

  • You just changed into your house shoes and sat down in your favourite chair, opening up the newspaper while saying "Good dog!"
  • Your GSD is coming after you and sits down about a meter away, eyes aiming to meet your eyes, while saying nothing.

Regardless what you are saying, and regardless what you intend to say, this is what your German Shepherd is likely to understand in that moment:

"My pack buddy is calm and not in bad mood. (S)he doesn't want me to disturb now. I shall just sit here quietly. I may also lie down, as long as I am not disturbing my pack buddy.

My pack buddy won't play with me now, and I won't get food now. (S)he is likely to pet me though, but absent-minded.

This may last a few minutes, or it may take an hour. An hour of no play, no feeding, no walk, and no focus on me. My pack buddy will hardly look at me. (S)he will not notice how I feel and what I'd like.

At least, (s)he won't scold. (S)he's calm and not in bad mood. (S)he just doesn't want me to disturb now. I will have to abide..."

And this is what your German Shepherd replies:

"Okay, I sit here for a few moments, then I will lie down. Every now and then I will wag my tail to tell you that I am ready for you, waiting.

Once in a while I look up at you, hoping that you look at me too, so that you will understand me. I know that you can only understand me when you look at me. And even then, often you don't.

When you do look at me, I will come closer and huddle against your legs. But soon thereafter I will walk away from you a few steps, to encourage you to get up from your chair and to follow me.

I repeat this sequence between huddling against your legs and taking a few steps away, until I can win your attention.

Though, I can't resist, every now and then I will have to whine a bit, so that maybe I can get your attention any sooner?"

Closely studying ordinary situations like the above, as well as more unusual situations, allows to gain incredible insight into dog language, communication between dog and human, and dog communication secrets:

  • What you are telling your dog is ALWAYS much more than what you are saying and/or gesturing to your dog.
  • What you are telling your dog is ALWAYS much more than what you intend to tell your dog.
  • What you are saying and/or gesturing to your dog may sometimes be very different to, or even the opposite of, what you intend to tell your dog.

  • Almost all your GSD is telling you is in complete quiet.
  • Almost all your GSD is telling you requires that you look at your dog to have a chance to understand.

  • Your dog only intends to tell you something when you are either looking at your dog or when your dog wants you to look.
  • What your dog is telling you is ALWAYS much more than what your dog intends to tell you.
  • To understand more, you need not only look at your dog when your dog intends to tell you something but also when your dog doesn't intend to tell you something.

  • When you are looking at your GSD, your dog will use a different language than when you don't look at your dog.
  • The language your GSD uses ranges from pure body language, to eye contact, to non-verbal sounds, to barking.
  • The more your GSD desires to tell you something, the higher your dog will move up in this language range.

  • Your GSD knows that you are aware of every modality of your dog's language range.
  • Your GSD is fully aware that your understanding of your dog's language is weakest at its lower end.

Puuh! This is probably something to savour (or to chew on, depending on the amount of outright agreement).

In future PERIODICALS we will come back to many of these insights. Once discussed, you will probably agree that our dogs understand us much better than we understand our dogs!

The common view which we learn everywhere is that we shall use short dog commands of one or two words only, because presumably:

  • "Dogs cannot understand full sentences"
  • "Dogs only react to specific cues like a short dog command or a gesture with the hand or finger"
  • "If we provide more information to dogs, we confuse them"

Yes, trained dogs DO react to a short dog command or a gesture with the hand or finger, BUT this doesn't mean that they don't understand much more.

Likewise, the fact that dogs BARK in order to tell about their feelings doesn't mean that they don't communicate much more.

When your German Shepherd barks, (s)he uses verbal communication, (s)he 'talks'. Barking is DOG TALK. But at other times, when your German Shepherd does NOT bark, (s)he may nonetheless be communicating with you, either through non-verbal sounds like whining or growling, or through eye contact, or most likely through body language!

My favorite dog body language expert, Brenda Aloff, has compiled a wonderful photographic guide on canine body language f - the one every other book is judged by. If ever you want to learn canine body language, I suggest you get this photographic guide first. Another great book that taught me a lot is Jan Fennell's The Dog Listener f.

Indeed, if the above long list of insights into dog communication secrets bears any truth then the common view of what dogs understand and what dogs communicate couldn't be further from the truth!

I'd claim that, in general, dogs understand much more (and communicate much more) than most dog owners and dog experts can imagine. This is all the more the case for dogs with a genetic heritage to LEAD, to ORGANIZE, and to MANAGE: German Shepherd Dogs.

Your relationship with your GSD grows and improves, all because of two-way COMMUNICATION. The more you learn to communicate with your dog, the healthier your relationship and the better the bonding between you two will be.


  • HOW your German Shepherd stands
  • HOW your dog holds and wags its tail
  • HOW (s)he moves the ears
  • HOW (s)he turns the head
  • HOW (s)he changes posture
  • HOW (s)he paws the paws
  • When (s)he licks the mouth
  • HOW your GSD looks
  • HOW your dog whines
  • HOW (s)he snarls
  • HOW (s)he growls
  • HOW your dog barks
  • etc

All this, and much more, is part of dog language! The more of this we understand, the better we will understand our dog. Dogs are telling us an entire 'story' if we can just listen! Ahem, LOOK.

In addition, the more dog language we understand, the better our dog will understand us!


Because our behavior will change. Take the initial example situation: Would you LOOK at your dog and UNDERSTAND his or her body language and eye contact in that situation (long before your dog would have made any sound whatsoever!), you would react very different. For example, you might put the paper away and get up, to first play with your dog.

Now, that kind of reaction your dog would understand much better than if you continue to ignore your dog (apart from the absent-minded petting).

Another interesting aspect of German Shepherd Communication Secrets is the impact of age, socialization and training:

For German Shepherd PUPPIES, body language and non-verbal sounds take up the largest part, and seemingly about an equal part, of their overall dog communication. A much smaller part is barking, and eye contact takes up the smallest part.

Growing up, socialization and training then have a major impact on the load each dog communication form takes.

For trained German Shepherd ADULT DOGS, body language is by far the most important form of dog communication. Barking is likely to take up the smallest part, even if the GSD is allowed to bark (which should be the case). Eye contact takes up a surprisingly considerable part, while non-verbal sounds contribute surprisingly little to overall dog communication.

By the way, these differences between puppies and adult dogs in the weight of each form of communication differ significantly across dog breeds, while body language f always is the dominant form of adult dog communication - unless a dog is traumatized by say neglect.

Dog body language is actually fairly easy to understand once we pay attention. This of course requires that we consciously LOOK at our dog. Future editions of the PERIODICAL will focus on the different aspects of dog body language.

Similarly to how our GSD communicates with us using four different forms of communication, we also use these forms of communication:

  • Body language
  • Eye contact
  • Voice and
  • Non-verbal sounds

The above order is probably also a good weighting for which form of communication we should use how much. As you will know, understanding between two individuals is best when the same language is used...

If we don't adapt our own language to the German Shepherd Dog language, then our mutual understanding could only improve if our GSD adapts to our own language: (S)he would use Barking as much as we use our Voice. This is probably a development you don't want...!?

Indeed, dog owners who complain "my dog barks too much" should first reflect how much they talk. Dogs are highly sociable animals (they have been specifically domesticated for this exact purpose!), and this is all the more true for German Shepherds. It appears that dogs adapt to our human language much better than we adapt to their dog language.

When you have good command over all these four areas and give them the appropriate weight, then your communication with your dog will be effective and enhanced like never before!

Your German Shepherd will follow both verbal and entirely silent, non-verbal commands - as long as they are clear and consistent. When giving non-verbal instructions through your body language and eye contact, also be clear and calm, rather than swift. Rapid clumsy movements may be confusing, and may agitate your dog.

Practice a lot, and if you need keep a note of every verbal and non-verbal command that you give your GSD. Make sure that all members in the family use the same commands and in the same language (form of communication).

From now on, whenever you COMMUNICATE with your German Shepherd you should feel a great DIFFERENCE!

In future editions of the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL we will address the influence of your voice, eye contact, and body language, and how you can better make use of these forms of communication.

And remember: BE CLEAR AND CONSISTENT with all forms of language that you choose to consciously use.



  • We want our dog to understand us, and we want to understand our dog
  • Our dog wants us to understand him/her
  • (S)he can't study books and videos - but we can
  • [A long list of dog communication insights, see above]
  • [A long list of dog communication examples, see above]
  • Core areas of dog communication:
    • Body language
    • Non-verbal sounds
    • Eye Contact
    • Barking
  • We use the same, only that we speak, not bark (well, sometimes I do wink
  • The Dog Training Toolkit f shows all forms how we can communicate with our dog for training purposes
  • German Shepherd Dogs understand us much more than we normally believe
  • To better understand our GSD, we need to LOOK more - because dog language primarily is body language f
  • Whichever language form we use, we must be clear and consistent (among all who interact with the dog!)
  • TOP books on dog communication are The Dog Listener f and Canine Body Language f

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