How To Understand What Your Dog Is Saying
While most of us rely on speech to communicate, our 4-legged
best friends primarily communicate through age-old body language.
Do YOU know what your dog is saying?
Canine Body Language
Dogs are always communicating even if they are not making a sound through their:
Ears and eyes
Tail position (and motion)
Mouth and facial expressions
Overall body position (and movement)
While many people claim a dog behavior (usually negative ones) “came out of nowhere,” dogs are always communicating their feelings (I’m happy, I’m sick or I’m scared) and intentions (I’m going to run away, I’m thinking of attacking/biting or I’m going to show submissiveness). Fearful, anxious or insecure dogs will often signal their unease in subtle ways and then escalate into more aggressive responses if the perceived threat has not been resolved.
Let’s take a quick look at what different types of dog body language really mean.
Dog Body Language: Ears & Eyes
Ears are upright and alert: the dog is relaxed and aware of what is going on and feels good about it.
Ears laid back against the head: the dog is afraid, unsure, worried, dominant or aggressive.
Eyes are wide and relaxed: the dog is relaxed and interested in approaching.
Eyes are fixed, dilated pupils or showing a lot of white (whale eye): the dog is displaying signs of fear, insecurity, worry or arousal which can progress into dominance or aggression if the threat persists.
Ears pointing forward: the dog is in an alert/aroused mode and on guard.
Eyes are slightly closed or looking away to avoid eye contact: this is another signal that the dog is fearful or unsure.
Dog Body Language: Tail
A wagging tail does not always mean a friendly happy dog!
Relaxed tail wagging back and forth or even in a circle: the dog is feeling relaxed, comfortable and even playful. Depending on the level of excitement, the tail may wag slightly or energetically.
Stiff tail (downward or completely upward) or a tucked tail with slow, stiff wagging: this dog is afraid, unsure and may escalate to dominate or aggressive behavior if the threat is not removed.
Dog Body Language: Mouth & Face
Fearful/anxious mouth communication signals:
Lip licking (but is not hungry)
Yawning (but not tired)
Anxious mouth communication signals:
Excessive panting (but it’s not hot)
Aggressive mouth and face communication signals:
Tense mouth/curled lips
Dog Body Language: Overall Body
Relaxed and loose body stance: with their paws slightly apart, relaxed ears and tail, and an open mouth possibly with the tongue hanging out, the dog is showing he’s relaxed and comfortable. He may even lay down (normally or in the frog position), sit, play bow, roll onto their side, belly or back.
The play bow: with the chest on the ground and the butt high in the air, this dog happy and ready to play! Even if they bark or growl in this position, it is from happy excitement because an aggressive dog will never engage in a play bow.
Locked legs in a forward position with stiff/erect positioning: the dog is alert and on guard. The hackles may also be standing up.
Cowering or lowering the entire body: the dog is fearful and afraid.
Spinning/circling or jumping against walls/cage: the dog is stressed and signaling anxiety.
Note: Never push a fearful, anxious or aggressive dog; always err on the side of caution and bring in an expert to help address any unwanted behaviors.
Once you learn how to correctly interpret your dog’s body language, you’ll reach a whole new level of comfort and communication with
your best friend!
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