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33 Unusual Majors Your College Probably Didn't Offer

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ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

As about 150 million college students make their way to campus this week—including a record number of 21.8 million in the U.S. alone—they’ll be faced with the dreaded question that haunts all coeds throughout their academic careers: “What’s your major?”

While approximately one-third of undergraduates will begin their careers as “Undeclared,” the majority of incoming freshmen have a very firm idea of where their professional futures lie. And it’s not always in a traditional occupation. From beer to bowling and pot to pop culture, here are 33 strange college majors.

1. THE BEATLES


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The College: Liverpool Hope University

Just because you think you’ve deciphered the meaning of “I Am the Walrus” doesn’t make you an expert on the Fab Four. But earning an M.A. in The Beatles, Popular Music & Society can go a long way to upping your Liverpool street cred. Established in 2009, the program explores the role popular music has played over the past 50 years, using The Beatles as a case study. Not surprisingly, you’ll need to travel to the band’s birthplace—sometimes called “The World Capital City of Pop”—to do it. Also not surprisingly: The program is the only one of its kind in the world.

2. CANNABIS CULTIVATION

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The College: Oaksterdam University

Leave it to California to open the country’s first cannabis college. Then again, considering the thriving—and legal—industry that exists for medicinal marijuana in The Golden State, it really only makes sense that there would be a trade school for the cannabis industry. And one where classes in the history, politics, and legalities of herb are taught alongside seminars on growing and methods of ingestion. But don’t be surprised if your classroom time gets interrupted by a raid by the Feds; that’s exactly what happened in April of 2012, when a bevy of DEA, IRS, and U.S. Marshals Service agents showed up on the school’s doorstep.

3. COMEDY


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The College: Humber College

Think you’re funny? Whip out your diploma and prove it. Toronto’s Humber College takes its laughs seriously with its Comedy: Writing and Performance program, aimed at helping sort of funny people become really funny people by perfecting their comedic timing and understanding of how the funny business works, utilizing a faculty of working comedians and putting on weekly shows at the nearby Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club and an industry showcase at Second City—all in the name of making it big in stand-up, improv, sketch comedy and/or screenwriting. 

4. FERMENTATION SCIENCES

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The College: Appalachian State University

As tempted as one might be to call this a degree in beer-making, there’s a lot more to a career in suds than cracking open a cold one. The official description of this B.S. is “an interdisciplinary degree within the College of Arts and Sciences intended to provide students with a strong background in chemistry and biology and a considerable focus in business, marketing, and entrepreneurial principles.” Hands-on experience comes courtesy of the Ivory Tower Brewery, an on-campus, nonprofit brewery and plant managed by the school’s students and faculty. We’ll drink to that! 

5. SEXUALITY

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The College: San Francisco State University

A career in sex doesn’t have to come with an X rating. The M.A. degree at SFSU is an academic program more than five decades in the making, where students immerse themselves in a wide range of topics surrounding human sexuality, from its representation in arts and literature to social justice for sexual minorities. It’s academia at its most titillating.

6. VITICULTURE and ENOLOGY

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The College: Cornell University

College-age connoisseurs who know the difference between a Zinfandel (good) and a White Zinfandel (bad) might be ripe for a career in wine—an industry where demand is outgrowing the supply of qualified professionals to oversee the vineyards that produce the best vino and manage the wineries that sell them. Translation: job security, kiddos! While Cornell students will face the unique challenges of growing grapes and making wine in a northeastern U.S. climate, the schooling they get in soils, pests, grape varietals, and growing markets can be easily translated to any of the world’s wine countries (and make the job that much easier).

7. DECISION SCIENCES


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The College: Indiana University

A Ph.D in Decision Sciences is really the antithesis of being “undecided,” with doctoral candidates at IU amassing expertise in a range of quantitative methods in order to make business decisions at the highest level. These aren’t yes or no questions we’re dealing with; graduates emerge with the skills to apply research, data and analysis to solve problems in a range of precise disciplines, from finance to information technology.

8. POPULAR CULTURE

The College: Bowling Green State University

And you thought all those hours spent binge-watching Arrested Development had no professional merit! The official pitch for BGSU’s B.A. is that “By examining television programs, movies, cars, houses, music, museums, celebratory events, holidays, magazines and many other manifestations of culture, insights can be used to examine society presently and historically.” On a more practical level, students can parlay their studies into a career in journalism, mass media, advertising, or public relations. 

9. FLORAL MANAGEMENT


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The College: Mississippi State University

Running a flower shop isn’t as easy as Janet made it look on Three’s Company, what with all the sourcing, purchasing, marketing, merchandising and selling that’s required. Floral Management students at MSU get an up-close look at what a career in floral retail, wholesale, design, styling or display gardening feels and smells like, courtesy of The University Florist, an on-campus flower shop owned and operated by the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

10. AUCTIONEERING

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The College: Harrisburg Area Community College

Do I hear 20 credits? A first step toward becoming a licensed auctioneer in the state of Pennsylvania is completing the Auctioneering program at HACC, where students develop an eye for procuring the best merchandise for auction, utilizing the best appraisal sources and techniques, and developing that all-important auction “chant.” Going once, going twice…

11. POULTRY SCIENCE


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The College: Texas A&M

As Jim Perdue would tell you, it takes a tough man (or woman) to make a tender chicken. Hence the need for an education in the science of poultry, where academics, research, and service play equally important parts in a career in this major agricultural commodity. The program’s wide-ranging curriculum includes courses in biology, chemistry, and zoology and such service-oriented topics as mathematics, public speaking, and technical writing. Bonus points for determining once and for all which came first, the chicken or the egg?

12. ENTERTAINMENT ENGINEERING & DESIGN

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The College: University of Nevada, Las Vegas

A keen understanding of casino game design and engineering is as essential to the people who design the games in Vegas as it is to the pros who try to beat them. Which makes it all the more appropriate that Sin City is the setting for this B.S. degree, which educates students on both the art and business of the entertainment industry, from venue design and rigging to biomechanics and animatronics. Plus, students are never too far from a casino in which to ply their trade.

13. TURF AND GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT

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The College: University of Maryland

Golf courses require a lot of upkeep, so UMD offers a plant science degree in Turf and Golf Course Management to help train the greenskeepers of the future. The B.S. program requires a bit of biology and chemistry, but there are also more enticing classes like “Weed Science” and “Pest Management Strategies for Turfgrass.” One can only hope that the latter class includes a screening of Caddyshack

14. TURFGRASS SCIENCE


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The College: Penn State University

For opportunities beyond the local country club, the more generalized B.S. in Turfgrass Science prepares students for careers in professional lawn care, sod production, athletic field maintenance, and beyond. Though the degree may sound like a walk in the park, courses lean toward the science side of the equation (biology, chemistry, and meteorology are required courses).

15. FAMILY ENTERPRISE

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The College: Stetson University

Countless entrepreneurs have been warned about the dangers of doing business with friends—but family? That’s another story. Some of today’s biggest corporate success stories—including The Gap, Walmart, Ford, and Motorola—are technically “family businesses.” In DeLand, Florida, Stetson’s Family Enterprise Center has been teaching students the right (and wrong!) ways to mix business with relatives since 1998. Topics of interest include personal, professional and leadership development and legal, estate and asset protection.

16. CANADIAN STUDIES

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The Colleges: Duke University; Johns Hopkins University; SUNY Plattsburgh; University of Vermont

Canada looms large and expansive just north of the United States, but most of us are pretty uneducated about what the heck goes on there. Students who want to learn more about our neighbors to the north can absorb the culture, politics, and history of Canada through a Canadian Studies major at one of several universities. This sounds like possibly the only major in which there’s a slight chance you’ll have to watch Strange Brew as part of your coursework, unless you design your own Rick Moranis Studies major. 

17. EGYPTOLOGY

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The College: Brown University

We’re pretty sure that all of the great pyramids have been discovered, but on the off chance that there’s still a sphinx or two waiting to be stumbled upon, would-be Indiana Joneses would do well to have a degree in Egyptology. Established in 2005, Brown’s Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies—which offers B.A. and Ph.D degrees—brings students back to the birthplace of Western civilization as we know it with “Introduction to Classical Hieroglyphic Egyptian Writing and Language” and “Archaeology and the Ancient World” among their required courses.

18. JAZZ STUDIES

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The Colleges: University of North Texas, East Carolina University & University of Louisville

For whatever reason, jazz seems to inspire college music departments to start majors more than its fellow musical genres. A number of colleges around the country offer degree programs in jazz studies. These programs usually include both playing jazz and studying its history, cultural significance, and major figures. 

19. BASSOON

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The College: The University of Arizona

After completing the basic requirements for a bachelor’s degree in instrumental studies, students at UA’s School of Music choose their melodic weapon of choice. And for some would-be musicians, that means a bassoon—that 19th-century woodwind that mimics the sound of a male baritone so well and plays prominently in a number of orchestral and chamber music ensembles.

20. PIANO PEDAGOGY

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The College: Belmont University

It may seem odd, since so many folks took their childhood piano lessons from someone who didn’t have collegiate training, but the B.Mus degree at Nashville’s Belmont University doesn’t sound like a bad career move from a stability standpoint; moms forcing their kids to take piano lessons is an economy-resistant tradition. Want to take that education one step further? The University of Oregon in Eugene offers advanced graduate degrees in the discipline. 

21. BOWLING INDUSTRY MANAGEMENT AND TECHNOLOGY

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The College: Vincennes University

Being a pin monkey may be Homer Simpson’s unreachable dream, but you can make it your reality at Indiana’s first college, which offers the country’s only program in Bowling Industry Management and Technology. Required classes for this A.S. degree include “Lane and Pinsetter Maintenance,” “Pro Shop Operations and Essentials” and “Responsible Alcohol Service.” The program’s site proudly touts its facilities, including an 18-lane bowling center that acts as a laboratory for students to gain hands-on experience.

22. COSTUME TECHNOLOGY


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The College: DePaul University

Much like film editors are to the movies, costume designers are the unsung heroes of the theater—the people upon whom the audience (unknowingly) relies to take them into a fantasy world. Needless to say, there’s a science to this talent that goes far beyond a flair for fashion. Costume Technology majors within DePaul’s Theatre School will explore the world of costuming from a variety of disciplines, from art and architecture to ethics and business management. Draping, cutting and designing are, of course, part of the package, too. 

23. DIVING BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY

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The College: Florida Keys Community College

It’s the dream of many a beach bum to spend their days carting tourists around and showing off the undiscovered corners of their waterfront worlds. James E. Lockwood Jr. School of Diving in Key West can get you one knot closer to this goal with an A.A.S. curriculum that merges diving science with instruction, leading the way to a thriving—and oh-so-freeing—career as a dive master, scuba instructor, commercial diver, water-based medical technician, research diver or underwater photojournalist. 

24. FAMILY and CONSUMER SCIENCE

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The College: Liberty University

This bachelor’s degree path at the Lynchburg, Virginia school that was founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971 sounds an awful lot like home economics. According to the school’s website, “The Department of Family and Consumer Sciences teaches students the values, knowledge and skills necessary to be proactive in strengthening the contemporary family. The goal of Family and Consumer Sciences is to enable individuals and families to function as healthy units in the larger society.” Classes like “Balancing Work and Family” and “Family Economic Decisions” sound like helpful bits of life advice but aren’t quite what we’re used to thinking about in the classroom. 

25. ECOGASTRONOMY

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The College: University of New Hampshire

In 2008, UNH launched a dual major in EcoGastronomy, a program that educates students on how food gets from farms to their plates. With an eye toward sustainability, pupils study food at a number of steps along the road to their mouth to gauge the ecological impact of what they eat. EcoGastronomy students will also pick up knowledge about the hospitality industry, nutrition and agriculture in this major. And will undoubtedly get to sample a ton of tasty fresh foods.

26. PACKAGING


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The College: Michigan State University

MSU’s School of Packaging offers B.S., M.S. and Ph.D programs. What does the School of Packaging study? Exactly what it sounds like: all sorts of packaging in an effort to improve functionality and environmental impact. Since we’re unlikely to revert to a system in which goods are sold loose without packages any time soon, this major might lead to a steady career.

27. EQUINE STUDIES

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The College: Becker College

If you like horses, why not major in them? Several colleges offer degree programs in studying horses, each with its own focus. Some programs, like this one at Becker College in Worcester, MA, offer students the choice of concentrating in riding instruction so that they can eventually teach lessons. Other programs, like the one at the University of Maryland, forgo saddling up in favor of preparing students for scientific horse study or working on the business side of the equine industry. 

28. BAKERY SCIENCE

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The Colleges: Kansas State University & Hesston College

Smelling like a loaf of fresh-baked bread might just be the most brilliant way to make new friends. Modern commercial baking relies pretty heavily on science to achieve consistency and efficiency, and this major teaches prospective bakers and managers the cereal science, microbiology and milling expertise they’ll need to run a successful bakery.

29. THEME PARK ENGINEERING

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The College: California State University Long Beach

California State University offers a fun twist on electrical engineering with its B.S. in Theme Park Engineering, which readies students for careers in the theme park and amusement industries, where they’ll meld elements of electrical, civil and mechanical engineering to learn the critical specifics of electrical power, hydraulics and pneumatic controls. 

30. NANNYING

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The College: Sullivan University

Ready to take that part-time gig watching your younger siblings to the professional stage? The Professional Nanny Program at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky has been turning babysitters into early childhood education professionals for nearly 25 years now with a 12-month diploma program that teaches essentials like CPR, First Aid and Water Safety plus the fun stuff, like etiquette and manners, effective communication (with parents and children) and party planning.

31. COMIC ART

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The College: Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Master the serious art of storytelling, while studying the use of line, color, and composition, as well as character development, storyboarding and plot. In other words: become the next Stan Lee with this BFA program from the world-renowned Minneapolis College of Art and Design, with a dual emphasis on the history of comic art and individual, experimental expression.

32. GUNSMITHING

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The College: Lassen Community College

An unsurprising fact about the Gunsmithing school at LCC in Susanville, California is that it was founded in 1945. A surprising fact about the Gunsmithing school at LCC in Susanville, California is that it is still a thriving academic endeavor. But its specialties aren’t as archaic as they sound. The NRA-affiliated program—the oldest in the U.S.—offers A.S. degrees in Firearms Repair and General Gunsmithing, with “Basic Machine Shop,” “Barreling” and “Engraving” among the course offerings.

33. PUPPETRY

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The College: University of Connecticut

Like something out of a Spike Jonze movie, puppetry has been an academic specialty of UConn since 1964, when master puppeteer Frank W. Ballard—who passed away in 2010 and for whom an on-campus museum is named—first started teaching classes. In the five decades since the subject’s introduction, the school has put on nearly 500 puppet productions, with graduates of the BFA, MFA and MA programs going on to design and perform for some of the world’s best-known theaters, television shows, film studios, schools, museums and beyond. 

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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