As loving dog caretakers we believe in completely kind canine understanding. Dogs have a complex language of their own that, with study, we can learn to read perfectly. You don’t need to complete a lifetime of study though to work out what your dog is thinking, and often to work out why, it’s simply a case of learning the basics and putting them into practice.
The Language of a Happy Dog
How can you tell when your dog is smiling? It’s actually quite easy to recognise a smiley dog. Everything on their face and body is relaxed. The smiling dog has ears that are dropped back and a relaxed jaw. Her body is loose and her tail is usually mid height. When your dog lies on the sofa, or his bed, and rolls over into a legs akimbo position then he is a happy dog. A floppy dog is generally relaxed and a relaxed dog is happy.
When Tension Develops
You have probably seen this a few times when your dog meets others on a walk. When a dog meets another of his species his body language will go through a vast range of changes. Some of these changes are barely noticeable to the human eye yet another, well socialised, dog can recognise all of them. A nicely social dog will not approach another dog head-on, he will walk or curve around as a matter of careful and polite greeting.
If tension begins to develop during this initial interaction it is because the two dogs are trying to work out where the encounter will go next. Tension is shown by licking of lips, glancing away, stiffening of body and a change in tail position. For the dog that may display signs of confrontation his tail will raise and the fearful nervous dog, that wants no confrontation, will drop his or her tail between the back legs. Often all of these changes happen very quickly and relaxation returns when each of the dog works out that there is no threat.
A Worried Dog’s Body Language
If you dog meets someone or something that worries him then the following body language may occur. Learning to read the signs of a worried dog are one of the most important things to do as a canine caretaker. Worry can easily become stress and outright fear, then a scared dog can see aggression as his only option.
Anxiety begins with the licking of lips, glancing away, yawning and an overall change of body posture. A worried dog will become very tense and stiff. His hair on his back and/or at the base of his tail may bristle and stand up on end. He will either stare intently at the reason for his fear or he may try to get away from it altogether.
A scared dog must always be allowed an escape route and should never be confronted or he may bite. It is much better to remove a dog from the frightening situation than it is to expect him to calm down. The longer a dog is forced into a scary situation the more anxious he will become, both on the specific occasion and in the future.
Take some time to observe your own dog’s body language and how he reacts in many circumstances, you will hopefully see the first two steps in a behaviour pattern far more regularly than you see the last one.