While speaking to your dog in the same spoken language would be an ultimate dog owner’s dream, it’s not exactly a reality. But that doesn’t mean we can’t communicate or comprehend their language. There are mannerisms and actions that our dogs do which translate to certain connotations and some of us are not aware of the meanings.
Our beloved pooches often communicate to us without us even realising it, and understanding what specific behaviours translate to can give us very useful information. Is your dog yawning because he’s tired, or because he is uncomfortable? Are they urinating because they have a full bladder or because they are scared?
In order to understand the language of the dog, it is imperative that we realize how dogs interpret their own world and the methods that they use to communicate with both their own kind and others.
Here are some of the most common forms of body language of your dog and how you can identify what they are thinking.
Nervousness, stress or unappealing feelings
Yawning, lip licking and raspy sounding panting are some examples of your dog feeling stressed. Freezing of the body or tensing the jaw are signs that they are feeling defensive and in a state of flight or fight mode. Turning the head away completely or turning while maintaining eye contact means that your dog is showing appeasement. Urinating is often an example of a dog being incredibly stressed.
Showing of the teeth can be confusing as submissive smiling is often mistaken for aggression. Submissive smiling is not your dog presenting a warning sign; it is usually a way of your dog saying he doesn’t want to be fighting and just wants to be friendly. If your dog’s mouth is long, lips drawn back indicates they are feeling intimated and if their top lip is curled, showing teeth this is a sign that they are feeling threaten and stressed.
Lack of comfort
Sneezing is not always a sign that your dog has some dust up his nose. Sneezing, sniffing, yawning and pacing are all examples of when your dog is feeling uncomfortable. Many of us would have noticed when your dog shakes his whole body for seemingly no reason at all, but this is actually your dog releasing stress and tension, just as they would water off their backs.
A dog with a slightly open mouth with their tongue exposed, that falls to one side is a classic example of your dog feeling content & relaxed. Playing bow or turning over to show his belly is your dog showing that he trusts you and is excited for social contact.
A wagging tail is only an indication of arousal; it does NOT always mean the dog is friendly. The rate of movement can indicate degree of arousal and excitement. For example, a slight tail wag, each swing of small size = tentative, submissive signal. Broad tail wag that doesn’t involve the hips or lowered body posture = friendly gesture, not involving any dominance. A broad tail wag with wide swings that pulls the hips from side to side = happiness, sign of respect & mild submission. Whereby a slow tail wag with tail at a moderate to low position, is more a sign of indecision or confusion about what’s going on or what’s expected of the dog, rather than a social signal.
Some other signals are, a tail down and low signals the dog is relaxed. If their tail is horizontal (not stiff, raised) may move slightly, signals the dog is on alert. A dog’s tail held high & stiff is sign of it being threatening, dominate, and offensive. A tail down very low and tucked, with little or no movement is also a sign of a dog being threatening, defensive and reactive. However, the dog tail combined with other body language, can mean the tail low and tucked is a sign of feeling submissive & fearful. And a tail that is tucked and between the legs is showing signs of extreme fear and total submission.
Identifying these different types of body language are not just useful to understand what your dog is thinking, it can also help to protect you and your dog from situations and aid in training or identifying behaviour problems. When you are able to confidently understand the language of your dog, you can better predict their behaviour in different environments. Being prepared when taking your dog to the park and interacting with other dogs or identifying when they are potentially feeling discomfort, anxiousness or pain is an incredibly important method of ensuring your beloved dog is as content as they can possibly be.