Reading your dog’s body language is not that difficult and is central to understanding your dog.
Dogs are non-verbal; their body language does the talking for them and vocalization takes second place in their communication skills. As a dog owner you can learn the basic forms of your dog’s body language by spending a little time observing your dog’s interaction with people and other animals in different situations.
Learning to understand dog body language can also help protect you and your dog from dangerous situations and dog pain, as well as aid in training or identification of common behavior problems your dog may have.
Dog body language can be identified by the following behaviors:
A confident dog will stand straight and tall with its head held high and ears perked up. Its mouth may be slightly open, but relaxed. The tail may sway gently, curl loosely or hang in a relaxed position. This means your dog is friendly, non-threatening and at ease in its surroundings.
A happy dog will show the same signs as a confident dog. In addition, it will usually wag its tail and sometimes hold its mouth open a little wider, or even pant mildly. It will appear even more friendly and content, with no signs of anxiety.
A playful dog is happy and excited. The ears are up, the eyes are bright, and the tail wags rapidly. It may also jump and run around. A playful dog will often exhibit the play bow with front legs stretched forward, head straight ahead, and rear end up in the air.
A submissive dog holds its head down, ears down flat and averts its eyes from direct confrontation. It holds its tail low and may sway it slightly, but does not tuck the tail under its body. A submissive dog often rolls on its back and exposes its belly. A submissive dog may also lick the other dog or person to further display passive intent. The submissive dog may also sniff the ground or otherwise divert its attention to show that it does not want to cause any trouble. A submissive dog is meek, gentle and non-threatening.
The anxious dog may act somewhat submissive, but often holds its ears partially back with the neck stretched out. It will stand in a very tense posture and sometimes shudders. Often, an anxious dog whimpers, moans, yawns, or licks its lips. The tail will be held low and may be tucked in. An anxious dog may overreact to stimuli and can become fearful or even aggressive. If you are unfamiliar with a dog that is exhibiting this behavior, try to divert its attention to something else and be cautious not provoke or try to soothe it.
The fearful dog displays both submissive and anxious attitudes with more extreme indicators. A fearful dog will stand tense and low to the ground. The ears are held back flat and the eyes are narrowed and averted. The tail is tucked between its legs and the dog will tremble. A fearful dog often whines or growls and might even bare its teeth in defense. A fearful dog can turn aggressive quickly if it senses a threat. If you are faced with this situation, don’t try to reassure the anxious dog, but separate yourself from the situation quickly and calmly. If the dog is yours, be confident and strong, but don’t comfort or punish it. Immediately move your dog to a less threatening location.
A dominant dog will try to assert itself over other dogs and sometimes over people. It will stand tall and confident and may lean forward slightly. The eyes will be wide and it will make direct eye contact with the other dog or person. The ears are up and alert, and the hair on its back may stand on edge. It will often growl in a low tone. If the behavior is directed at a dog that is submissive, there is little to worry about. But if the other dog also tries to be dominant, a fight could easily break out. If the dominant behavior is not towards another dog but rather towards you, this can pose a serious threat. Absolutely do not make eye contact with the dog and immediately remove yourself from the area. Hopefully your dog will not exhibit this behavior towards people, but if it does, behavior modification is absolutely necessary.
An aggressive dog goes far beyond acting dominant. All four feet are firmly planted on the ground in a territorial manner, and it may lunge toward you or your dog . The dog’s ears will be pinned back, the head straight ahead, and the eyes narrowed and piercing. Its tail will point straight and high. This behavior usually involves baring the teeth, snapping the jaw, and will be accompanied by growls or threatening barking. The hairs along the back may stand up on edge. If you are near a dog exhibiting these signs it is critical that you get away carefully. Don’t run or make eye contact with the dog. Be careful not to show fear and slowly back away to safety.
Learning to read your dog’s body language will help you understand the fundamental dog language signs and will aid in strengthening the bond between you and your dog. This seemingly simple connection may help save both you and your dog from possible serious injury in the future should you encounter an fearful, dominant, or aggressive dog on your daily walks. Safety comes first for you and your pet.