As a dog pawrent, it is important to understand canine body language. It can be frustrating when you don’t understand your dog and what your pooch is saying to you. Are they happy? Are they sad? You may also be asking yourself, do dogs understand human body language and if so, what are you unknowingly communicating to them? Since we can’t all be Dr. Doolittle speaking dog, here is some guidance for pet owners on how to understand dogs body language and communication signs so you can understand what your dog is communicating and in turn what you are communicating to your dog.
Since dogs can’t communicate verbally like humans, the dogs body is their main vehicle for communication. While dogs do communicate with sounds, like with an excited bark or with a whimper or a growl or a whine, they also use facial expressions using their eyes and mouth as well as their ears and the positioning of their body to signal emotions. Sometimes these signals might be conveying different emotions than how we might interpret them. When deciphering dog body language, you need to pay attention to the details. For example, tail wagging might indicate a dog is happy, however depending on the speed and position this action can mean various things.
Dog Tail Body Language
The dog tail is often used to signal emotions. The speed and direction of a wagging tail as well as the tail position can indicate if a dog is feeling sad, anxious, scared, alert or happy. A tucked tail between their legs means a dog is feeling fearful or stressed in a situation. A whole body tail wagging side to side means a happy dog. A tail held high, perhaps with fast twitching motions, can indicate high arousal and hyper focused attention and could possibly signal potential aggression from the dog. It is important to also know the neutral position of your dog’s tail. For example, a Samoyed or a Pug will hold its curled tail high on its back when happy and drop the tail when sad. A low wagging tail can also be a submissive action. A loose wag is typically a dog that is happy, calm and comfortable. It is important to pay attention to the different motions and position of the tail when determining how the dog is feeling.
Eyes, Ears and Mouth – How to Read Dog Body Language
Reading dog facial expressions is also key to understanding dog language. The dogs eye is a good place to start when deciphering how a dog is feeling. Soft eyes or squinty lidded eyes indicate a relaxed dog. A dog who is uncomfortable or stressed will try to avoid eye contact and look away while turning their head. If you see the white’s of your dog’s eye, called whale eye or moon eye, this is typically a sign of fear when your dog is feeling stressed and anxious in a particular situation. Dilated eyes can also signal fear. In these moments, it is important to pay attention to the context of the situation. Perhaps your dog has just encountered an exuberant puppy that is badgering or bothering your dog and your dog is unsure how to respond to the puppy. In these circumstances, it would be best to remove your dog from the situation and tell the owner of the puppy that your dog is uncomfortable. A hard stare without turning away or breaking eye contact happens when a dog is hyper focused on something. This is typically a signal of potential aggression and can be taken as a threat. As a human, making prolonged direct eye contact means you are also giving that same threatening signal to the dog. If you are encountered with an aggressive dog it would be wise to not make direct and prolonged eye contact or the situation could become combative.
The mouth is another factor to consider. Lip licking is one of many signs of stress as your dog is doing these behaviors to calm down. Frequent yawning does not necessarily mean your dog is tired and usually indicates your dog is stressed or scared. If you find your dog exhibiting these behaviors, like when meeting a new person or playing with another dog, then you know they are becoming uncomfortable or are over stimulated. Yawning yourself when your dog is uneasy is one many calming signals you can use to help your dog feel better in stressful situations. A tightly closed mouth and a long lip shows nervousness. A curled lip and wrinkled nose with barred teeth is a warning sign used when a dog is fearful or feeling threatened. This accompanied by a growl is a warning that more aggressive behavior may soon to come. On the flip side, a dog that is showering a person in licks is a sign of affection.
When looking at the body language of dogs, the ears are also used to signal emotions. Flattened ears that are low and close to the head can show a dog is nervous or scared. Ears that are perked up and pointing forward show the dog is alert and focusing attention. A dog with raised ears may be curious and possibly agitated. If your dog is shaking their head frequently and vigorously, along with scratching, that could indicate an ear infection.
Understanding a Dog’s Body Language
A canines body communicates many different emotions as well as their state of health. Some behaviors are signs of stress signals while others may indicate potential aggression, feeling sick or wanting to initiate dog play. You should always pay attention to body posture, as it is essential in understanding dog’s body language.
Play bowing is a type of stretching used when a dog is excited or over stimulated and needs to transfer that emotional energy into physical action. It is also used for play signaling to other people and animals. This is where the yoga position “downward dog” comes from. You will often see dogs display this position when excited to go out for a walk or when meeting another dog and wanting to initiate play with them. Another coping mechanism anxious dogs may employ to calm themselves and shed some nervous energy is by shaking their entire body. While a dog will shake off their fur when they get wet, seeing this behavior when your dog is dry indicates that there have been heightened emotions. Sniffing is one way that a dog experiences their environment. It is hugely important for dogs to sniff things, especially when meeting a new dog or person and while on walks. You should allow your dog to sniff while on walks as this helps them relax. Excessive scratching might be another way that doggos work out stress, similarly to shaking. The Zoomies are another way for dogs to release pent up energy. Most of the time zoomies signal a happy dog, but sometimes your dog might start running to release stress.
There are also signs your dog will give that they may soon exhibit some aggressive behaviors. Signs a dog might become aggressive are many. One major clue are raised hackles where the fur on their body stands up. This is a sign of high arousal in your dog. This can happen if they are overly excited and do not always indicate aggression. If a dog is standing tall and very alert with a tense body, they are not relaxed and are hyper focusing their attention to see if they need to react to attack. Similarly, if a dog shifts their weight to the back they are preparing for a possible lunge if needed. A fearful dog on the other hand will be hunched down, cowering, trembling and trying to divert their body away from the situation.
Understanding a dog’s body language when they are happy can be a little easier to detect. A happy and content dog’s entire body is relaxed with no tension. Their tail is in a neutral position and the wagging is of a normal pace. Asking for a belly rub is usually a positive sign, though sometimes dogs roll over and expose their bellies in an act of submission. This can sometimes be accompanied by urination.
Hopefully, these tips will show you how to understand your dog’s body language and dogs emotions!