What’s in a Nudge? Decoding the Language of Noses


When it comes to canine communication, the cues are usually clear. A bark at the door means, “Let me out!” Puppy dog eyes at the dinner table say, “Give me some, too!”  Most of what our pets try to tell us doesn’t need decoding. But what about a bump of the nose?

Besides sniffing backsides and tracking treats, our dogs use their noses to impress a number of messages upon us. Want to know what’s behind the bump? Here’s how to decrypt your dog.

muzzle rub
Furry friends are social creatures with well-choreographed cues for meeting and greeting . This gentle poke tells another pup, “I’m no threat—lets be pals.”

bro bump
When your dog’s happy to have you home, he’ll often greet you with this loving bump (think of it like a canine fist-bump or high-five!).

nose poke
When your furry friend bonks his food bowl, a toy, or other object, it usually means, “I want this, please.” Nudging toys toward you is an invitation to play.

snoot scoot
Does your dog ever poke your legs to quicken your pace? He’s not just hurrying you: he’s herding you. While usually harmless, watch out for escalated actions like nipping at heels—and nip that behavior in the bud.

snout slam
This is a dog who thinks he’s the boss! Forceful nudging can be an expression of dominance. A bold bump like this can be a tactic to pester someone into play, but beware signs your dog is getting too big for his britches.

Dog snouts may be famous for their ability to sniff, but when it comes to canine communication, there’s more than meets the nose. Tune into the messages encoded in your pet’s pokes—it will help both you and your pet feel like you’re speaking the same language!

signaling stress
While most nose nudges are all in good fun (or just a pup being a little pushy), some bumps are a signal to back off. If a bump to the face feels more like a punch and is accompanied by a hard stare, air-snapping or attempts to turn away, end the interaction and give your pet some space. These can be warning signs before a dog bites.

— published in fetch! magazine, the “Bumps in the Road” issue


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