White Pug jumping up to get owners attention. What is she trying to tell her owner?

What is Your Rescue Dog Trying to Tell You? Common Behaviors

Last updated on January 6th, 2024 at 09:11 pm

Do you have a new rescue dog who is doing things to try to get you to notice them? If so, you may struggle to understand what your new pup is trying to tell you.

Understanding the behavior and communication of dogs is integral to building a strong and enduring bond with our canine companions. Observing and interpreting the various ways dogs try to get our attention, such as jumping, barking, or staying close, allows us to respond appropriately to their needs. Recognition of these signals and a grasp of canine social behavior are crucial in unlocking the messages behind these actions.

By paying attention and observing our dog’s behavior, we can learn to detect the nuances that differentiate a dog’s many forms of communication. This fosters an environment where the bond between human and dog can flourish. Learning to recognize and interpret these signs means that we can not only meet the basic needs of our dogs but also enhance the quality of the companionship they provide.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding dog communication strengthens the human-canine bond.
  • Dogs exhibit specific behaviors, such as barking or jumping, to communicate.
  • Recognizing these behaviors allows us to respond better to our dog’s needs.

Pay Attention to How Your Rescue Dog Communicates with You

Beagle sitting on the grass howling

There are many ways a dog will try to get your attention to let you know they need or want something. Young puppies have a multitude of needs and will persistently communicate with their canine moms to get their needs met. As dogs mature, it is natural for them to continue to try to communicate with their human parents even as their needs lessen as they grow up. Here are the most common ways that dogs try to communicate with us:

  • Jumping
  • Barking
  • Nipping
  • Whimpering
  • Growling
  • Staring
  • Stealing things
  • Pawing
  • Licking and chewing
  • Pacing or Restless Behavior
  • Clinginess
  • Wagging or pointed tail

We can all relate to a happy dog who jumps and runs around when we get home. It is pretty clear they are happy to see us. Now they can get that walk or treat or just some cuddling and petting. But there are many other times when dogs will do things to try to get our attention. In some cases, we may not even realize that they are trying to tell us something.

As an example, my two rescue dogs got into the habit of just staring at me during different times of the day. For a while I could not figure out why they just seemed to be watching me with such earnest eyes. What were they trying to tell me? Then it dawned on me that the staring usually began about 30 minutes before their meal time and continued until I fed them. They were trying to tell me it was time to eat! They also watched me carefully if I changed clothes and slipped into my jeans. Putting my jeans on usually signaled that we would soon be going for a walk.

Interpreting Canine Communication Cues

Cute brown Dachshund staring at food bowl full of dry kibble.

Dogs are inherently social creatures, once part of packs, and they constantly convey their thoughts and emotions through various behaviors and body signals. As they transition into our homes, these companion animals still express their needs and desires. Recognizing these cues is crucial as it can reveal a lot about your dog’s current state or needs.

  • Eye Contact: Dogs often lock gazes to catch our attention for needs such as meal times or walks. Prolonged staring may indicate anticipation of activities they associate with certain human actions.
  • Vocalizations: A dog may vocalize through barking when they need something or feel a range of emotions. Whimpering might signal discomfort, while growling could be a warning. Attention to nuances in their tones can aid in understanding their intent.
  • Posture and Tail Motion: A dog’s posture, including tail wags and positioning, provides insight into their mood. A wagging tail can signal happiness, whilst a pointed tail may indicate interest in something new in their environment.
  • Physical Actions:
    • Jumping: Often a sign of excitement upon greeting familiar people.
    • Nipping or Pawing: May seek to engage in play or attract attention to an issue.
    • Clinginess: Could indicate the need for comfort or companionship.
    • Restlessness: Pacing or unsettled behavior can be a call for attention to something out of the ordinary.

Everyday interactions, such as the introduction of new smells, people, or changes in daily schedules, can trigger specific reactions in dogs. For example, they might paw or lick to explore interesting things or signal their fondness.

Understanding your dog’s communication attempts through their repertoire – from body language to behavior changes – is fundamental. It enhances the bond between humans and dogs and ensures a harmonious living space for both.

Pay Attention to Understand What Your Rescue Dog is Trying to Tell You

Contented and Joyful Signs

Happy white rescue dog

Dogs exhibit behaviors that are perfectly normal and are indicative of their emotions. For example, a rapidly wagging tail usually denotes excitement and pleasure. When a dog’s tail is stiff and moves slowly, it might be a display of defensiveness or worry. A lower tail can suggest submissiveness or fear. When interacting with your dog, it’s essential to respond with either a cheerful or gentle voice depending on what your dog’s body language implies.

A dog who leaps and vocalizes when you return, communicates joy, even though this behavior may require some training to prevent accidental knocks. Nevertheless, this enthusiasm can be reciprocated with lots of affection and the occasional reward or stroll outside. Dogs might also express their delight through licking once they are close enough for physical contact.

Annoying, but Harmless Habits

Rescued boxer nibbling at his blanket

Some behaviors are annoying but harmless. Georgia, my more Pug-like dog, always steals my socks every morning. It is a signal that she is awake, wants to play, and is ready for her day. Sometimes, she and her sister, Charlotte will run downstairs ahead of me and start tossing their stuffed squirrels into the air and dragging them around, as I make coffee and get their kibble ready. Oh, Happy Day! Breakfast! Hurry Mom!

Both of my dogs will also do negative things to get my attention when they think I have been ignoring them. Georgia will usually run into the bathroom and bring back some discarded tissues to chew up in my office. Charlotte, who is more aggressive, will jump up and knock my keyboard onto the floor. She also will knock my iPad, out of my hands in the morning if she thinks it is time for our walk. (See A Dog’s Newspaper, for some cute stories about this.)

Troublesome Patterns

Aggressive tri-coloredJack Russell Terrier on a leash barking.

But some behaviors are signs of trouble. If your new dog paces a lot or seems to fidget and move around frequently, they may be feeling stressed or anxious. If a dog is left alone too much, and is not getting much attention or interaction, they may whine or bark excessively. A dog who has been neglected or abused in the past may be overly clingy and will refuse to leave your side or engage in destructive behaviors.

I crated my two rescue dogs the first few nights after I adopted them. They seemed fine, but then I noticed that Charlotte had begun chewing on the edge of her blanket each night. When I stopped crating them and let them sleep in their dog beds, the chewing stopped.

Likewise, the first few times I left them alone in the house out of their crate, I came home to a slightly nibbled hallway carpet runner. Both of these behaviors seemed to be related to anxiety. Eventually, they got used to the idea that I was not going to crate them forever and that I would always return home, and then the chewing stopped.

How to Know What Your Rescue Dog is Telling YouThrough Body Language

Certain behaviors, however, can signal deeper issues. Frequent pacing or restlessness can be symptoms of stress or anxiety in dogs. Prolonged solitude or lack of engagement can lead to behaviors such as excessive whining or barking. Dogs with a history of neglect or mistreatment may display overattachment, not wanting to be apart from their owners, or exhibit destructive tendencies when alone.

Instances of a dog chewing on objects like blankets or carpet edges when left alone could be a manifestation of separation anxiety. It is crucial to observe for these signs, as they might require specific adjustments or training to ensure the dog feels secure and understood, furthering their acclimation to a stable and predictable environment.

Behaviors to WatchPossible Significance
Rapid tail waggingJoy and Excitement
Stiff, slow tailAggression or Concern
Low tailSubmissiveness or Fear
Leaping, vocalizingExcitement for Owner
Mischief for attentionDesire for Interaction
Pacing, restlessnessStress or Anxiety
OverattachmentPast Neglect or Trauma
Destructive when aloneSeparation Anxiety

Addressing medical problems, anxiety issues, and discerning between a smaller dog’s or larger dog’s needs are part of responsible dog ownership. Always seek advice from rescue groups or professionals if aggressive behavior persists, as this can lead to dangerous situations.

How to Respond to What Your Dog is Trying to Tell You

Everyday Signals

Dogs give us a lot of important cues about their needs. As an example, I absolutely do tend to lose track of time when I am working. So, I appreciate their reminder that it is dinnertime. I also love to see signs that they are happy or excited about mealtime, outings, or just happy to play. There is nothing like wagging tails and dogs bouncing around the house to brighten my day.

When my dogs are cold or sleepy at night, they will gently paw at me to let me know they want be on my lap or next to me. These are the sweet things I love about my two dogs! However, my dogs are a little spoiled, so you may want to train your dogs to wait and be invited to join you. Otherwise, they may rule the roost!

There are other ways to get your dog to settle at night or when you need him to just be quietly in the room. You can train him to lie on his mat or special bed in the living room or bedroom. You can even put him on a leash in a room with you to get him used to the idea of just lying still for a while. This will keep him calm and keep him from being agitated or wandering off if he is not fully trained. The Labrador Site addresses this and many other issues in an article written by Pippa Mattinson on May 23, 2017.

Dealing with Negative Behaviors

Many negative behaviors, however, can be more easily dealt with. A dog who is chewing on things, may simple be bored and in need of some good, safe, chew toys. A dog who seems to bark a lot or seems a bit hyper, may need more exercise. If you work all day, consider hiring a dog walker or paying the kid next door to come over and play with your dog.

Training and setting boundaries also go a long way to give your dog a sense of security. He knows what is expected of him, and what he can expect of you. Rather than scolding your dog for getting into the garbage, make sure it is not easily accessible to him and that he gets fed on a regular schedule. If he tends to get into trouble in certain rooms while you are away, keep those rooms closed off. That way he won’t chew up your favorite jeans you left in the laundry room.

Having a daily routine of meals, exercise, and playtime will provide your dog with a greater sense of security. He will have something to look forward to each day and be less worried. Remember, we totally control our dogs lives. They need to know that their needs will be taken care of in a loving, positive environment.

Interpreting and Reacting to Canine Communication

Dogs communicate a wealth of information through their actions and behavior, signaling their needs and feelings to their human family members. Observing your canine companion’s behavior is crucial to understanding what they are trying to convey. If you lose track of time and your dog reminds you of dinner or playtime with an excited wag or an enthusiastic bounce, it’s clear they are looking forward to these moments of the day.

Setting Up Calm Spaces:

  • Train your dog to relax on a mat or designated bed in common areas.
  • Use a leash indoors if necessary to teach your dog to stay put calmly.

For the more disruptive behaviors, such as excessive barking or anxiety-driven actions like chewing or pacing, it’s essential to rule out any underlying emotional distress with the help of a veterinarian or a certified dog trainer, especially if there’s a history of past trauma.

Addressing Less Severe Behaviors:

  • Boredom-induced chewing can be resolved with engaging chew toys.
  • High energy or excessive barking may signal a need for increased physical activity, making hiring a dog walker or engaging the neighborhood youth for play sessions a great solution.

Training and establishing boundaries are key to providing your dog with structure. They learn what is expected and gain a sense of security from knowing their place and routine. Instead of reprimanding your dog for undesirable behaviors:

  • Dog-proof your household to prevent unwanted chewing or scavenging.
  • Maintain a consistent feeding schedule.
  • Restrict access to areas where they might find trouble.

A consistent daily routine filled with meals, exercise, and playtime offers dogs a stable and secure environment. By managing their daily lives with care and structure, dogs can lead contented lives, assured that their needs are met in a loving and constructive setting.

Guidelines for Dog Owners:

  • Embrace positive reinforcement to encourage good behaviors.
  • Limit access to areas where your dog could potentially misbehave.
  • Consider crate training as a way to provide a safe haven for your pet.
  • Keep meals and playtime on a predictable schedule.
  • Invest time in your dog’s training or seek assistance from a professional dog trainer to set a foundation for the best life for your pet.

By investing time and a little patience in understanding and shaping your dog’s behavior, you lay the foundation for a harmonious relationship. This not only offers pets a good life but also allows pet parents to enjoy the great bond they share with their four-legged family members.

In Summary — Finding the Right Balance is the Key

Tan and black dogs sleeping together on the couch.

Knowing what your dog is trying to tell you is a balancing act. You will need to pay attention to all of her different behaviors to try to meet her needs, but also establish some rules and boundaries for good behavior. Dogs are very bright and wonderfully creative. They have learned through centuries of co-habitation with humans how to communicate with us. So be careful to pay attention and not write off any of their antics as mere quirky actions.

Unlike humans, dogs communicate much more through their actions than through their vocalizations. So, when you notice your dog each time they try to get your attention, you will most likely discover they are telling you something important. And, you may be surprised by what you learn!

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