29 Jul A quick-read guide to interpreting your dog’s body language
Gazing into a pet’s eyes, we’ve all wondered – what are they really thinking?
When it comes to your pet pooch, getting an insight into what they might be thinking and feeling is not as difficult as you might imagine. While dogs do use sounds to communicate, most of their communication comes through their body posture and facial expressions. You’re sure to know some of these body language cues, so let’s look at how your dog might be trying to communicate with you, and what it all means.
Learn their language.
Dogs have their own language, and it’s our job to learn how to listen. Looking at different areas of your dog’s physique will give you the best clues as to what he’s thinking.
The eyes are the window to the soul – and they’re a great place to start. A relaxed dog won’t be showing almost any of the whites of her eye, and her eye movements will be calm and natural. On the other hand, big, round eyes that show lots of white indicate tension or fear. Another sign of fear or tension is dilated pupils, which can make a dog’s eyes look glassy.
There’s nothing more smile-inducing than a happy wagging tail! However, the position of the tail is a clue that people don’t always look for to interpret what kind of wag it might be. If his tail is held low or straight out from their spine, they’re likely relaxed and happy.
As their emotion increases, the tail usually goes up higher and can wag faster or be held still, depending on whether the emotion is positive or negative. On the other hand, a fearful dog’s tail will be low, either firmly between their legs, or wagging stiffly.
Just like us, when they’re relaxed and happy dogs have a special “smile”- mouth open, possibly panting, with no tension around their face. They might even have the corners of their mouth upturned a little. A “submissive grin” is a little different but has a similar meaning. A dog might show his teeth, but have a lowered head, wagging tail, ears down and relaxed posture – it’s a whole-body smile!
If he shows his teeth with signs of tension such as growling or a wrinkled forehead, it’s time to give your dog space. Tense forehead, hard eyes, and a rigid body posture show that your dog has been upset by something and is giving you a warning. Yawning and lip licking generally signals relaxation in a person but for dogs it can actually be a sign of stress, especially if they’re tense and whining.
Dogs don’t sweat much, so they rely on panting to cool themselves down. But panting can also show that a dog is stressed and anxious, especially if their other body cues are indicating stress and they are panting quickly. And while dogs don’t sweat much they can sweat through their paws, so little wet footprints can mean he’s very upset and anxious.
Some dogs have more range of movement in their ears than others – long floppy ears just don’t have the same stand-out signals, but they’re still there if you know where to look. Relaxed dogs will have their ears back a bit or to the side. As their interest or tension increases, their ears start to move forward, pointing towards their object of interest. Ears flat on the head indicate nerves, fear, and tension.
We get goose bumps, and in a way, so do dogs. Usually a sign of being upset or hostile, “raised hackles” or raised hair can usually be seen along their shoulders, spine, and tail, as your dog appears to puff up to look bigger and tougher. Excessive hair loss can also be a sign that a dog is stressed or frightened, so if your floors are messier than usual it might be time to check in.
Movement is generally pretty easy to interpret. Dogs who are ready to play will crouch on their front legs, and then make big movements, with lots of looking back to see if their companion is paying attention to the invitation to play. Dogs are very capable of politely declining the invite – avoidant behaviours like lying down or looking away signal that they are not interested.
If your pup is scared, their body will reflect that. Getting low to the ground, leaning back or even rolling onto their side can be an indication that they’re frightened. Pair that with wide eyes, tucked-in tail and a wrinkled forehead and you know they’re in need of some soothing. A dog showing aggression makes her body big – a raised head, tense muscles, and leaning slightly forward. Their nose is likely to be wrinkled and their eyes looking hard.
The most important factor in person-to-pooch communication is the same as for all types of interaction – good listening skills. You know your dog, so taking time to notice when they are sending you signals means you’ll be much more likely to pick up on how they’re doing.
A translator for dogs would be great to have, but you have the next best thing – loving your pup and caring enough to pay attention to what he’s trying to say.