A 2018 study published in the journal Animal Cognition alludes to the idea of dogs being able to communicate with their owners in a series of gestures. 19 gestures to be exact. A combination of the 19 is also possible to indicate different needs.
Whether your dog needs to go outside, or play with a certain toy, or just wants affection in general, they are able to communicate with non-verbal action.
The study was conducted using 37 dogs where the environment was their own homes. 242 videos were recorded by their own owners. After these videos were analyzed, 19 “referential gestures” were found where the dog was communicating with their owner through movement.
Of the 37 pups, 16 were female and 21 were male. They were a variety of ages ranging from 1.5 years to 15.
The study was conducted in a variety of events in order to capture the daily communicating patterns of each dog. Play time, or cuddles on the couch, and especially feeding time, all brought about a series of referential gestures. For example, during playtime a movement would consist of either “limb, head and whole body movements but not facial expressions or static body stances”(Worsley, H.K. & O’Hara, S.J., 2018).
The most common gestures seemed to describe commands such as “scratch me!”, “give me food/drink”, “open the door”, and “get my toy”. Of the 242 videos, 47 possible gestures were recorded, with 19 being analyzed, and confirmed as communicative gestures. These gestures could be a roll over, which is an invitation to scratch, or a jump which means “open the door”. Front paws on would be “give me food/drink”, and so on.
Head turning gestures were recorded most commonly.
This entire study is extremely interesting because it serves as an intricately detailed account of cross-species communication. The fact that your dog, without speaking your language or even being the same species as you, can effectively communicate wants and needs so well that you respond in kind is impressive. You yourself can probably even tell your dog’s different barks apart. Where one is a friendly greeting, and the other may be a warning tone, but that is verbal communication.
These gestures are completely nonverbal, and always received well and accurately by the owner. This study shows the bond between pet and person, and confirms how smart our pups truly are. So the next time your dog signals to you, be ready to receive it!
Worsley, H.K. & O’Hara, S.J. Anim Cogn (2018) 21: 457. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-018-1181-3