Dog Body Language
We all want to communicate as much as possible with our furry friends and understanding dog body language is one of the best ways to do this. Your pooch cannot tell you how they are feeling through words so it is vital that you have a good understanding of what their actions and mannerisms mean.
All too often dog owners interpret their pet’s body language incorrectly. They think that an action means their pooch is telling them one thing but in reality they are trying to communicate something else. So we have a comprehensive guide to your dog’s body language for you so that you can better understand what they are trying to tell you.
Start by really knowing your Dog
Before you can start to understand the body language of your furry friend you need to really know them. For example different breeds will adopt different postures and this will have an impact on what they are trying to communicate.
Here are a good couple of examples. A Shih Tzu has the tendency to hold up their tail and you can interpret this as their neutral position. If they deviate from this then the chances are they are trying to communicate something. With a German Shepherd their neutral position is holding their tail down.
You need to look carefully at your dog’s entire posture. It is important that you take any actions with their body parts into context with their posture. There can be subtleties here. If your pooch has floppy ears then it might be difficult for you to spot when they move their ears back just a little bit.
It is entirely possible that your furry friend will change their postures in time. They may begin to display a body posture that communicates fear, but when they discover that this posture is effective this can change to a more confident posture despite the fact that they are still experiencing fear.
Dog Body Language
We felt that the best way for you to learn about the body language of your furry friend was to provide lists of behaviors and actions that demonstrate particular emotions. So this is what you need to look out for when assessing what they are trying to communicate to you:
How to tell if your dog is experiencing Fear or Stress
If your furry friend is feeling stressed out or fearful, the following actions are the most common ways they can communicate this to you:
- They will move their ears back
- Their tail will be down or even tucked between their legs (please be aware that certain breeds have their tail down in a neutral posture e.g. greyhounds)
- They will start to back away
- They will look away
- They will have their head down
- They will start to cower or crouch down
- They will wrinkle their eyebrows
In addition, they may also display the following characteristics:
- Trembling (when not cold)
- Panting (when not hot or thirsty)
- Refuse to eat
- Freeze in one position
- Hide away
- Pacing around or increasing another activity
- Lick their muzzle
- Lift a paw
- Begin to salivate (when no food around)
- Yawning (when not tired)
- Bear their teeth
- Go to the toilet inappropriately
- Express their anal glands which normally produces a nasty fish like smell
- Widen their eyes which enlarges their pupils
How to tell if your dog is feeling Confident
You obviously want your furry friend to feel confident rather than fearful or stressed. Here are the typical signs of confidence:
- They have their ears forward
- Their tail is up (remember than in some breeds this is the neutral position)
- When they stand they are straight up
- Their eye contact is direct
- Their head is held high
- Their mouth is open a little and they expose their tongue
These are all signs that your dog does not feel threatened by anything or anybody around them. You can usually approach a pooch displaying these characteristics without any concern.
How to tell if your dog is Alert/Curious
Dogs are curious creatures and they will usually want to check things out that they have not encountered before. So, if your furry friend has discovered something that interests them, they are likely to display some or all of the characteristics below. It’s their way of telling you that they are paying attention and making an assessment of a certain situation.
- Ears are forward and may be twitching if they are trying to detect a specific sound
- Mouth is closed
- Wide eyes
- Forehead and nose are smooth
- Tail is horizontal but not bristled or stiff
How to tell if your dog is feeling Happy
If the body language of your pooch is relaxed then this is probably a sign that they are happy. This is what you need to look out for as signs of happiness:
- Mouth partially open with a soft look
- Relaxed ears that are not taut or pulled back
- Posture is relaxed overall with head raised, a confident stance and tail relaxed
- Wagging of the tail which includes wiggles from the whole body. Tail wagging with a relaxed body also suggests happiness
- Showing you their belly by rolling over
- Bowing down ready to play with their bottom in the air and chest pressed against the ground
Results will vary by breed but in general if your furry friend is exhibiting these signs then you can confidently assume that they are happy. At the end of the day it is all about your pooch appearing to be at ease and comfortable.
How to tell if your dog is feeling Sad/Lonely
Your pooch is not going to cry when they are sad. But they can exhibit other signs of sadness or loneliness. Check for this body language to see if your furry friend is feeling sad or lonely:
- They make a whimpering or whining sound
- Generally moping around not enjoying things that they normally do
- Energy levels down
- No interest in treats or other food
- Smaller eyes that may look squinty
- Patterns of sleep are different from normal
Of course, this kind of behavior can be a sign that your pooch is unwell. Try to make your furry friend happier by going for a walk, playing with a toy that they love, giving them their favorite treat and letting them play with another dog that they like. If they are still sad then consult your vet.
How to tell if your dog is feeling Angry
Of course you don’t want your furry friend to be angry but sometimes this is going to happen just as it does with us. These are the tell-tale body language signs:
- A threatening stance standing as big as possible
- Body upright and stiff with fur standing on end
- Ears flattened and eyes not blinking
- Open mouth and drawn back lips with the baring of their teeth
- In an attack position ready to lunge
- Low growling that is threatening
If you see these signs in your pooch then don’t do anything to make the situation worse. Do not stare at them or try to provoke them in any way. Be careful with sudden movements and keep your distance. Your furry friend may just need a little time to cool off but, if this behavior continues, it may be because they are actually injured and they are simply displaying their natural self-protection mechanism.
We hope that this guide will help you to better understand your dog’s body language. Always remember that certain breeds will act slightly differently but, over time, you will get to know your dog better than anyone, what makes them tick and what ticks them off!
It’s amazing how our furry best friend can sense and willingly provide emotional support whenever we need it, so it’s only fair we do the same for them. That’s what makes the special unbreakable bond between you.
It’s amazing how our furry best friend can sense and provide emotional support whenever we need it, so it’s only fair we do the same for them
Wishing you and your canine companions the best of health!
Helen Broadley & the FidoActive Team
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