Reading a Dog’s Body Language

Dog's body language

Most times, however, one’s ‘body language’ speaks more clearly and loudly than the ‘spoken language’. For a dog, on the other hand, that dog’s ‘body language’ is its only medium of communication. Every action of a dog, even something as basic as tail wagging, is the dog’s way of conveying its feelings to you. These emotions can range from fear, sadness, hostility, happiness, to disease. It is therefore important for pet parents to accurately interpret their dog’s body language so that they can provide them with the best care. Here are a few typical dog actions and their interpretations:

The Tail Language

Tail Body Language of a Dog

Not every tail wag is a greeting. Not every tail wag is a sign of happiness in your pet. Sometimes, wagging of the tail could mean quiet the opposite. It is important for pet parents to understand the tail’s role in a dog’s body language, so they can develop a better relationship with their pet dogs. A sweeping motion of the tail – an act that almost shakes your pet’s entire body – is a definitive sign that your pet is happy to see you. Likewise, a wag that goes around in circles, is a greeting once again. Quick wags could probably mean that your dog is aroused, and not for the right reasons. It could mean that your dog is on high
alert, possibly because it senses danger.

The position of the tail should also be considered when interpreting a dog’s body language. If your dog tucks its tail between feet, it is because it is scared of something or someone. If the tail is held in a tight upright position, it is a pre-attack manuevre, and is a sign of aggression. Watch out for this tail action and try to diffuse the growing tension before your pet hurts itself or someone else. If the tail is held in the neutral position, then it means your dog is relaxed.

The Hair Language

Brown Puppy Hair Body Language

Dogs express a lot through their fur / body hair. If the hair is raised from the back to the tail, it means that the dog is aroused. Arousal in a dog may not always be a precursor to violent action or a sign of aggression. It can happen even if a pet dog is curious about or is fascinated about something. For instance, you may have seen your dog’s hair rise up in its very first interaction with a cat, or in some cases, in every interaction with a cat!

The Postural Language

Doggy in Postural Body Language

Postures provide key body language cues, which if observed and interpreted right, can tell a lot about a pet dog’s mental state. If a dog takes a submissive, cowering position, it is a sign of truce or surrender. It implies that the dog comes in peace, and is probably ready to accept your authority. If a dog twists and turns its body until you see its belly, it is totally an
attention-seeking ritual. Your dog most likely needs a belly rub!  Sometimes, it could also be indicative of severe stress and anxiety.

A dog leaning forward shifting its entire body weight to the front is a sign that the dog is keenly interested in something. Be vigilant and keep your eyes open for other aggressive body language cues. Because together, it could be a call for a duel. If a dog has its chest on the ground and its posterior up, it is inviting you or another dog to
play. The more often you accept this invitation, the happier your pet dog will be!

The Face Language

Dog express Face Body Language

Face is a very important aspect of a dog’s body language vocabulary. It is unmissable because it is literally ‘in your face’ all the time! Something as simple as yawning has a different meaning when a dog does it. It is a sign of stress in a dog. It happens when a dog senses danger to itself or to you. Yawning back at your dog can actually relieve the dog of

Lip-licking and drooling are common dog traits. In dog language it does not always mean that the dog is hungry or has just had something tasty. If a dog salivates frequently, it could indicate digestive issues. Lip-licking could also indicate discomfort.

Dog smiles are difficult to interpret. If a dog puts its teeth on full display, stiffens its body, and throws in a snarl or growl, it means battle lines are drawn. The dog obviously feels threatened.  A growl fest may soon ensue. A real dog smile will also have a dog showing all its whites, but it will be more like a wide grin. It will be accompanied by the dog loosening its limbs and doing a little wiggle-jiggle. This means that the dog is in a happy, safe space.

The Eye Language

Eye Body Language of Dog

This body language cue is easy to read. If a dog’s eyes are soft and droopy, it is a sign that the dog is calm and happy. If a dog gives a cold hard stare,  it is plain aggression probably triggered by a predator or someone/something intimidating. You can also conclude that the dog’s protective mode is on, and it is gearing to protect you, itself, or a prized possession. If a dog’s refusing to make eye contact with you, or is turning its face away, it is natural to mistake that action as your dog’s anger or displeasure over something you said or did. On the contrary, it could mean that your dog is in a stressful situation and is trying to stay calm through it. Similarly, white eyes in a dog could also indicate stress.

Every hop and every step a dog takes has a meaning deeper than what meets the eye. But what pet parents should note is that its best if a dog’s body language is not viewed or judged singularly – i.e. cue by cue. Its a combination of cues that can truly and fully reflect a dog’s state of mind. Another point to ponder is that the ‘grammar’ of a dog’s body language may differ from one breed to another. So, the onus of understanding, correctly interpreting, and appropriately responding to these signals lies solely with the pet parents. To figure out and if required, regulate a dog’s behavior, pet parents need to spend quality time with their pet dogs. Also, they should encourage their pet dogs to socialise with other people and pets.

These social interactions serve as stmuli for pets to be their natural selves. Pet parents can learn more about their dog’s needs, wants, likes, dislikes, fears, and fancies from such gatherings. This will help them provide their pet dogs with the physical and psychological care they need. Socialising dogs has many more benefits. To know these benefits, read up our blog on this subject.

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