Watching dogs interact can be confusing. Are they playing? Are they fighting? What’s the deal?! Marc Bekoff is a biologist at the University of Colorado and author of the book Animal Passions and Beastly Virtues. He’s spent decades studying the behavior of dogs, coyotes and wolves. And by analyzing videotapes frame-by-frame, he’s discovered that dogs definitely have their own language when it comes to communicating.  Here are Beckoff’s tips on how to read common dog signals. Because often, what you think you’re seeing turns out to be way off base. We got these from ABC News .com.

  • The Paw Slap. This is like a human coming up and slapping you on the back. It looks stiff, but it’s really a dog’s caress. He’s saying to his canine friend, “Let’s have fun.” And since the paw slap puts the dog at an awkward angle, it’s a sign that he trusts the other dog not to attack.
  • Hind-Leg Rearing. When dogs rear up on their hind legs, they look like two grizzly bears fighting. But actually, it’s more like dancing, and is a sign of affection. If the dogs wanted to fight, they’d use their jaws, not their forelegs. If a dog is in fight mode, he won’t expose his chest, stomach, or neck.
  • Biting. You see the fangs flashing, the jaws snapping - and you think it’s fight time. But if the dogs aren’t actually biting down, once again, they’re playing - and it’s a sign of trust. The bites aren’t landing. You might even see one dog’s muzzle in the mouth of another – but they won’t actually close their jaw. There – now you know what’s going on when Fido and Rover get together and hang out.