3 Common Ways Pet Parents Misunderstand Their Dogs

Here's what our pups actually mean.

3 Common Ways People Misunderstand Their Dogs

Ever think you have your dog all figured out? You may want to think again.

Because we love our dogs so much (they’re members of the family, after all), sometimes we think we know just what they’re thinking and feeling, and why they’re acting a certain way. There’s even a word for it — anthropomorphism, which is attributing human qualities to non-humans (like dogs, in this case).

But sometimes what we think our dogs might be feeling, or what their actions may mean, couldn’t be further from the truth, according to animal behaviorists.

So, what are some of the common ways people misunderstand their dogs?

We spoke to animal behaviorists from The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) for their insights into common misconceptions that pet parents can sometimes have about their dogs.

3 common ways people misunderstand their dogs

Learning to read your dog’s body language is one step towards understanding his behavior and creating a better relationship together. Here’s what your dog is really communicating through his body language:

When your dog licks your face, it doesn't always mean he’s showing affection

“Parents love to post cute pictures of their babies or toddlers being kissed by their dog,” Joanna Wachowiak-Finlaison, a dog trainer and animal behavior consultant, told The Dodo. “But most of the time, they misinterpret what the dog is trying to communicate. While kisses for humans are always a show of affection, dogs often use them as a way to politely ask for more space.”

Other signs your dog could be feeling uncomfortable or anxious include:

  • Quick, pushy licks
  • Tense body
  • Ears pulled backward
  • Head turning away

If you notice these signs when your child is nearby, it’s best to move them away until your dog is feeling more comfortable, according to Wachowiak-Finlaison.

The same goes for licking other dogs or cats, too. “It’s usually either appeasement, meaning ‘please don’t hurt me,’ or ‘kiss to dismiss,’ which is ‘please go away’ in dog speak,” Debby McMullen, an animal behavior consultant, told The Dodo.

Rolling on his back and wagging his tail doesn't always mean he wants belly rubs

“A wagging tail isn’t always a friendly gesture,” Elvine Weng, an animal behavior consultant, told The Dodo.

In fact, low, quick tail wags and rolling over to expose the belly are an indication of fear or discomfort, according to Christina Evans, an animal behavior consultant and trainer.

The best way to respond to these behaviors is to move away and stop whatever prompted them.

While it might seem like the tail wagging and rolling over on his back is your dog just being submissive (which is seen as a positive), he’s actually indicating that he’s stressed and would like you to move away, according to Evans.

He doesn't actually feel guilty

We’ve all fallen for that look our dog gives when we think he feels bad about doing something he shouldn’t. Turns out, he might not feel that way at all.

Your dog isn’t feeling guilty, despite that guilty look on his face,” Lauren Rubin, a dog trainer, told The Dodo.

In fact, he’s actually worried because you’re upset. Your pup is likely trying to communicate calm behavior to diffuse the tension, according to Rubin.

“Your dog expresses himself through his behavior,” Gigi Early, a dog trainer and animal behavior consultant, told The Dodo. “It isn't about good or bad, right or wrong — dogs don't think like that. Most dogs I meet are craving to be understood by their humans. We expect them to understand our worlds, but we do little to understand theirs. What you want isn't always what the dog needs.”

Basically, according to input from the IAABC, when we understand why a dog behaves a certain way, it puts us on the path of helping a dog rather than trying to “fix” him.

A dog’s love knows no bounds, but we already knew that. The more we learn about our dogs and what they want to tell us, the closer our relationship will become.