How to read your dog’s body language
Is your dog trying to tell you something? Dogs communicate to each other in large part through body language. Understanding this language can not only help you understand your own dog but will also allow you to better predict what other dogs are thinking. Here’s an overview of the general signs and signals to watch for.
A Confident Dog
A confident dog stands tall with their head held high and ears perked. Their mouth may be open but relaxed, their tail is relaxed as well and may have a gentle sway or curl to it. This dog is safe to approach.
A Playful/Happy Dog
In a happy or playful mood your dog will show similar signs of a confident dog along with their tail wagging excitedly. When trying to engage play, dogs will very often display something called a ‘play bow’. A play bow is when a dog stretches their front legs forward along the ground with their back end up in the air most likely wiggling along with the tail. This is a sure sign they want to play!
A Submissive Dog
A submissive dog shows signs by holding their head low, ears are held flat toward the head and their tail is held low or tucked underneath them. Some dogs will roll on their backs and sometimes even let out a little piddle, this is called a ‘submissive pee’ (not to be confused with housetraining issues!). A submissive dog will often sniff the ground as if they are distracted or don’t even notice you are there; this is a way to avoid conflict and let you know that he/she doesn’t want any trouble. A submissive dog is usually safe to approach but be gentle as they are likely more nervous then you.
A Fearful/Fearful Aggressive Dog
A fearful dog will not usually look you in the eyes and will often have their tail tucked between their legs. They will approach you, if at all, with caution and a tense look, head down and ears pinned back. You should use caution when approaching a dog in this state. Rather than approaching directly it is safest to be patient and allow a fearful or submissive dog to approach you on their own time. A fearful dog is often underestimated and can be the most dangerous where bites are concerned. A fearful aggressive dog will have many of the same characteristics but may also bark, bare it’s teeth and lunge toward you, backing away right after a lunge. Do not approach a dog in this state even if the owner tells you ‘he/she’s just scared’.
A Dominant/Dominant Aggressive Dog
A dominant dog is an over confident dog. They will try to assert themselves over other dogs and people. They will be the first to approach you and demand attention. These dogs are often called ‘jealous’ as they always want attention over everyone else. A dominant aggressive dog is very easy to spot, they will stand firm and look you straight in the eyes with ears pinned back and tail straight up. They are often leaning forward and threatening by showing their teeth and possibly letting out a growl. This type of dog should never be approached. If your dog acts this way toward you or others contact a professional to help you with this immediately.
An Anxious Dog
Often when a dog whimpers or whines they are feeling anxious. A common sign of an anxious dog is a ‘stress yawn’; this is when a dog whines or whimpers in the middle of a yawn. Some dogs will do this for something as simple as needing to go out for a bathroom break but it can also be a warning signs. An anxious dog can very easily become nervous or fearful and it may be a very clear signal of your dog feeling uncomfortable. A common example of this behaviour is when a dog becomes overwhelmed by many children surrounding them. If your dog lets out a ‘stress yawn’ it’s best to cut the visit short, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Understanding what your dog is saying can be very useful information and give you a greater chance of avoiding dangerous situations. The dog park is a great place to observe these signals in action. Many dog bites could be avoided if we only knew how to recognize these signs. Take some time to familiarize yourself and share your knowledge to help keep everyone safe.
Oaklee, Pluto & Charlee looking quite relaxed after a great run in the snow!