The usual woofs and gruffs are one thing, but if you have a good understanding of YOUR dog’s body language, through their individual actions and mannerisms, you can truly understand their emotions and support them as much as they do us.
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!
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 totally different. For instance, a panting dog doesn’t always mean a thirsty dog and a wagging tail doesn’t always mean a happy dog!
So, we thought we’d provide a guide to your dog’s body language, so that you can better understand what they are trying to tell you and help you create a special unbreakable bond, that you will both enjoy.
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 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, it’s the opposite; 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 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 and possibly a gentle pant (some dogs even smile!)
• 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
p.s. Fast tail wagging with other ‘happy’ signals means they are really happy and excited!
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. Oh, and when it comes to dog-to-dog communication, researchers found that when they are looking at each other with a “right tail wag”, they become relaxed in each other’s company.
How to tell if your dog is feeling Angry or Uncomfortable
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
• A wagging tail with this erect, rigid stance often means they’re feeling territorial or uncomfortable with something that is going on around them. If the tail wag is high and moving back and forth, narrowly but rapidly, this sign of discomfort can be a precursor to aggression.
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.
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
• 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).
Also, when it comes to dog-to-dog communication, research has shown that dogs watching each other with a “left tail wag” are exhibiting signs of nervousness, stress, or anxiety.
• 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, but you should always ask permission of the owner first, before you cooch their dog.
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. However, as they get closer to the subject of their curiosity, their tail may become lower and wagging slowly, usually because they are hesitant about something.
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 also 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.
Dogs provide unconditional love, a fact that is often hard for us humans to comprehend. They are always pleased to see us, no matter what our mood is, a welcoming hug after a bad day at work, a sounding board for our problems, a body guard, a home security officer, a shoulder to cry on…basically the best friend anyone could wish for!
So, we hope you find this guide helpful and are able to take advantage of this golden opportunity to spend more time getting to know your furry friends better and do the same for them.
Wishing you and your canine companions the best of health – always!
Helen Broadley & The FidoActive Team