In a perfect world, your dog would be able to tell you exactly what he needs, when he needs it. Unfortunately, dogs lack the language skills to communicate and ask for help when they need it.
But just because they can’t communicate with words doesn’t mean they don’t communicate at all! Your dog will definitely find a way to get the point across when he needs something from you. And the main way he’ll do it? Body language.
Dogs use their bodies as a way to communicate. And if you can learn to read your dog’s body language, you can figure out exactly what it is your dog needs, whether that’s a refill of his water dish, a game of fetch, or just a good, old-fashioned belly scratch—no words required.
But how can you read your dog’s body language to figure out what, exactly, he wants or needs? Here are five ways your dog asks for help (and how to recognize each):
Your dog shies away from petting
Typically, dogs love a good belly rub or ear scratch. But if your dog flinches or pulls away when you try to pet him, it could be because he’s in pain.
Now, your dog could just be telling you that he’s not in the mood—but if your dog shies away from petting, especially if he usually loves it, he might be trying to tell you that something hurts.
If your dog is exhibiting this behavior, pay attention. Does he only shy away when you try to pet a certain area of his body? Does he flinch when you touch him in a certain spot? These are all signals that your dog is in pain—and that he’s trying to tell you he’s hurting.
Your dog exposes his belly
On the flip side, if your dog rolls over and exposes his belly, he’s sending a very different message—and that message is “I need a little attention, so please, please, PLEASE give me some pets!”
Exposing the belly is a submissive behavior for dogs. If your dog gives you the belly, it’s his way of telling you that he trusts you—and, of course, that he’s in the market for some good, old-fashioned belly scratching.
If your pet rolls over and shows his belly the next time you walk by, make sure to stop for a minute and give him the love and attention he’s looking for.
Your dog stares at you
Have you ever been sitting on the couch, minding your own business—only to look up and see your dog staring at you intently?
If your dog is staring at you, it’s because he needs something—and he’s using the direct eye contact as a way to communicate his needs. Staring isn’t correlated to one specific want or need; your dog could be staring at you because he’s hungry, because he needs to go outside and use the bathroom, or because he’s ready to call it a night and go to bed.
If you notice your dog is staring at you, spend some time trying to figure out what he might need. When you figure it out, he’ll be sure to let you know (most likely with a bark of recognition!).
Your dog paces back and forth
Pacing is an anxious behavior in dogs—and if your dog is pacing back and forth, he’s trying to tell you he’s uncomfortable.
If you notice your dog pacing, assess what it is about the current situation that might be making him anxious—and then figure out how to remove that element from the equation and put your pup at ease. For example, if you notice your dog pacing back and forth while there’s construction going on outside your home, he could be feeling anxious thanks to the loud and unfamiliar noises, and relocating him to a quiet area of the house could be just what he needs to feel more calm and comfortable.
Once you help your dog get out of the uncomfortable situation, he should feel less anxious and stop the pacing.
Your dog excessively licks or grooms a certain area
If your dog injures himself—for example, gets a cut on his paw—he’s going to do everything he can to alleviate that pain. And one of the most common behaviors dogs engage in to help deal with pain is excessive licking or grooming.
If you notice your dog is licking, biting, or grooming a specific area of his body a) more often than normal, or b) for a longer period of time than normal, he could be trying to tell you he’s in pain and needs help. Check the area for any injuries and, if necessary, get him to the vet to get the pain under control.
Pay attention to your pup and give him the help he needs
Because your dog can’t just pipe up and tell you when he needs help, it’s up to you as a pet parent to pay attention, look for ways your dog might be trying to communicate, and take action to get your dog exactly what he needs to be his happiest, healthiest self.