Understanding Your Dog s Body Language

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1 Understanding Your Dog s Body Language

2 Dogs are one of the most expressive animals on the planet. Along with barking, body language is their primary means of communication. Their conscious and unconscious signals make up a complex language that reflects how they think and feel. What you might think is a cute gesture could actually be a sign of stress. While all dogs have unique personalities and characteristics, their body cues are universal. When you have a better understanding of dog body language, you can help your Pet feel safer, confident and more relaxed. 2

3 I m Happy When a dog wants attention or to play, its body will look relaxed. The tail will wag enthusiastically or thump on the floor. The dog will pant or expose its tongue, or have a happy expression on its face. Other signs that your dog is content include: Blinking or squinting eyes Dilated pupils Relaxing of the mouth Opening the mouth slightly, resembling a smile perked upward, but not pointing forward Relaxed tail that hangs down Excited tail wagging Wiggling of the backside Short, high-pitched barks Yapping Whimpering Loose, relaxed body Lying down with a tucked paw Play bowing with the front legs outstretched and lowered, and the rear end up in the air Rolling over to expose its belly, demonstrating trust Occasionally freezing while playing 3

4 I m Alert or Checking Things Out When something piques a dog s interest, its behavior demonstrates that it is trying to decide if a situation is safe and the best course of action. A dog that is interested in something and alert: Keeps its mouth closed Low whine Alarming bark Widens its eyes as it investigates Focuses and stares Holds its tail horizontally or high May slowly wag its tail Points its ears forward Twitches its ears to listen to a sound Looks focused and alert as it lean its body slightly forward Raises a paw Nose and forehead look smooth Cocks its head from side to side You often see this type of behavior when a dog sees a squirrel or someone at the door. When you notice that your dog has an alert posture, this is not a good time to pet or hug it. It is trying to decide if the situation is a threat that requires action. 4

5 I m Anxious or Nervous When you see signs of anxiety or nervousness in a dog, it doesn t want to play, even though it might exhibit behavior that seems cute or submissive. A nervous dog acts the way it does to relieve its own stress or to placate the perceived threat in hopes of preventing a conflict. Signs of anxiety in a dog include: Half-moon, or whale, eyes: Half-moon eye is when you can see the whites of a dog s eyes because it turns its head away but keeps looking at the perceived threat. When a dog does this, it wants to be left alone. You may see this when someone hugs a dog that does not want the attention. Furrowed or curved brow Brief and indirect eye contact Barking before retreating Low-pitched whine Moaning-type bark Excited short barks drawn back Tensing of the jaw Altered saliva production that could cause drooling, heavy panting, or panting that sounds dry or raspy Licking the air Licking their lips Yawning when it s not tired hangs low and might slightly wag Dogs with curly tails, such as pugs or malamutes, might straighten them Lowered body Holding its body still for a moment before reacting or until the threat goes away Raising one paw: While this is cute, the dog is communicating that it is worried. It does not want anyone to pet it. Turning its head away from the perceived threat Sweaty paws Shaking from the release of adrenaline Piloerection: The hair on the dog s spine or neck stands up (similar to goose bumps on a human), releasing an odor from the hair follicles Hugging: A nervous dog will sometimes hold onto its Pet parent for comfort. The dog leaves the uncomfortable situation 5

6 I m Scared When a dog is scared, it displays appeasement and deference language to prevent a conflict or injury from a perceived threat. This non-threatening behavior demonstrates submissiveness and fear. Many of the signs that a dog is scared are the same ones that demonstrate anxiousness. A frightened dog will also: Narrow its eyes Avert its eyes Show the whites of its eyes Draw its lips back to show teeth Tuck its tail between its legs Whining Low-pitched worried yelps Growling Lower its head Bob its head Hide behind an object or person Crouch Rolling over to expose its belly Accidentally urinate Go into a different room and relieve itself Bring its ears back or sideways It is a good idea to give a dog a safe place to go to when it feels scared or wants to be left alone, such as a crate or mat. Respect the dog when it retreats to this space. 6

7 I m Defending Myself When a dog demonstrates defensive behavior, it s trying to keep itself safe. The dog exhibits the behavior to encourage others to stay away. If the threat does not go away or the dog feels trapped, its defensive actions will turn offensive. When this happens, there s a chance that the dog might bite. Defensive and offensive dog body language includes: Drawing its ears back Dilated pupils Focused eyes that stare or make eye contact wags tucked between its legs Growling Low-pitched yelping Whining Leaning its body forward Wrinkling of the nose Raised hackles; the hair on the back of the neck and near the tail stand on end Pushing its lips forward and snarling Tensing of the mouth Snapping at the air as a warning sign Snapping at the perceived offender as a warning sign Quickly nipping the perceived offender as a warning sign: The dog immediately releases after it bites Biting, holding and shaking with intent to harm It is important to note that when a dog bites, holds, shakes and disembowels a stuffed toy, it is pretending to attack prey. This occurs more often in dogs with higher prey drives. This action is a sign of play, not necessarily a sign that a dog wants to do this to humans or other animals. 7

8 I Feel Dominant and Aggressive A dog should only display aggression when it feels threatened. If the dog demonstrates the following behavior toward you or others without provocation, seek the assistance of a behavioral specialist: Narrowed if aggressive Wide open if displaying dominance Focused and staring Close to the head if aggressive Pointing forward or back if aggressive Straight upward or pointing forward if displaying dominance Snapping and missing: The miss in such a situation was intentional Biting Curled lips and mouth open to show off teeth Barking aggressively even after you tell it to stop Snarling Raised tail that looks bristled, stiff or as if it s quivering Guarding toys, bed, food dish, food or other items from you, members of your family or guests: Guarding is a dangerous behavior that can escalate quickly. Professional training can help a dog overcome this aggressive behavior. Lunging, barking or growling at others when it s on or off a leash Raised hackles Urinating intentionally inside the home in your presence or the presence of others: A dog urinating inside the home isn t always a sign of aggression. It might have a medical condition or need training. When this occurs, schedule a checkup with a veterinarian. If a dog is housebroken and urinates inside the home, on a person, another Pet or on your belongings, it could have a serious behavioral problem that requires immediate professional intervention. Wrinkled nose 8

9 I m Going to Bite When you recognize dog body language indicative of an imminent bite or attack, stop interacting with the dog immediately. If you are touching the dog, move your hands away from it slowly. If you are bent over, stand up slowly. If you were taking something away from the dog when the behavior occurred, let go of the item. Turn your head and eyes away from the dog to see if it leaves. Do not talk, touch or approach the dog. If the dog does not leave, move away from the area slowly; do not run. Signs that a dog might bite include: Freezing or the body becoming stiff suddenly Focused eye contact Lip curling that shows teeth Standing with its front legs splayed and head low I Want to Do Something, but Am Trying to Control Myself When a dog wants to act in a certain manner but suppresses the urge to do so, it is demonstrating displacement behavior. These are normal behaviors that don t seem to match the respective situations. A dog exhibits displacement language to calm itself down or distract itself from its feelings of anxiety or conflict. You might notice this type of dog body language when you re getting ready to go out. Your dog may want to jump on you or run out, but yawns instead. When a child takes away the dog s toy, the dog may bite its own foot instead of the child. If the dog feels threatened, uncomfortable or nervous, it might demonstrate displacement behavior to take the focus away from the situation. Examples of displacement language in a dog include: Shaking its body as if it were wet Sniffing the ground or other objects suddenly Suddenly scratching when it s not itchy Biting its paws or other body parts suddenly Licking its chops when it s not hungry or there is no food in the area Yawning when it s not sleepy Nose licking Making sneezing noises Pacing Spinning Making its teeth chatter Many displacement behaviors are normal actions that a dog does in its everyday life. The key is to examine the context of the behavior. At night, when a dog yawns and goes to bed, this behavior is normal. If someone hugs a dog that does not want the attention, it may exhibit displacement behavior and yawn. These actions displace the urge to leave, bark, bite or act inappropriately with a different behavior. A dog is more likely to exhibit displacement behaviors if it doesn t have an outlet for its frustration or energy. Without the proper outlets or intervention, the behavior can become compulsive. 9

10 My is Wagging The most misinterpreted dog body language is tail wagging. Many associate the action with happiness, but some dogs wag their tails when they feel anxious, stressed, over-stimulated or focused. To interpret a dog s tail wagging, you must pay attention to other cues. For example: A friendly dog that is happy and wants to play has a relaxed body, wiggly bottom and a tail that wags fervently. A confident dog that is investigating something that captured its attention will hold its tail in the air. This action allows the scent in its anal glands to circulate, alerting others to its presence. A frustrated, scared or aggressive dog will wag its tail as it barks. Its body will be stiff and its eyes will be focused. Do not approach a dog that demonstrates this behavior. A dog that holds its tail low or between its legs is nervous, timid or scared. A dog investigating an area or assessing a situation may hold its tail higher, but wag it slowly. When a dog feels tense, defensive or aggressive, it may extend and slightly curve its tail. 10

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