Canine Body Language

For anyone who loves dogs canine body language is always interesting.  If you’re new to dogs you can learn some important things from studying your dog’s body language.  Here are some body language signals that will help you be more attuned to your dog.

Most people first look to see if a dog is wagging his tail.  This is often a good indicator of your dog’s mood — but not always.  In fact, tail wagging has lots of different meanings besides happiness.  Your dog can show lots of different moods with his tail, from happy wagging to holding it stiff and straight out from his body, ready to attack.  A fast wagging tail, lowered, with the dog’s head down, may mean that your dog is being submissive,  A tail up, wagging in big, broad wags, with the dog’s head up, mouth open, tongue lolling, usually means the dog is relaxed, happy, ready to take part in play or petting.

You can tell a lot about your dog’s mood by his facial expression, too.  What do his eyes look like?  Are they wide open or narrowed?  Is he showing his teeth defensively or is he showing his teeth in a friendly grin or smile?  (Yes, dogs do smile!)  What is he doing with his ears?  Are they up in an alert position or are they flattened against his head submissively?

Some signs are seemingly unmistakable, such as when a dog stands with his hackles raised (hackles are the guard hairs over your dog’s neck and shoulders).  This is a definite warning sign that your dog is alert, guarding or ready to fight.

Most people can recognize a snarling dog, of course, but it’s surprising how many people think a dog that’s standing tensely, staring at them with a stiff, slow-wagging tail is being friendly.  He’s not.  If a dog is watching your every move like you’re an intruder, chances are you’re not welcome.

When a dog is standing tense, growling or starting to crouch, you should take the situation very seriously.  Do not attempt to touch your dog at this time.  Even if your dog is not directing his attention at you, chances are that he is so focused on what he’s feeling that he could bite you without thinking.  Many people are bitten each year because they try to intervene in dog fights.  Unless you have physical control of your dog it’s best to back away until the event is over.  Even if you manage to get your dog away, you have no control over the other dog and could still be bitten or injured.

Even if you have a small dog you should take the possibility of a dog fight seriously.  Many small dogs seem to be unaware that they are small and they will try to tackle much larger dogs.  If you are out walking your dog, regardless of his size, do keep your dog leashed and under control at all times.

Dogs have a great range of vocalizations that go along with their body language.  In addition to barking, which has many different causes and expressions, they also whine, cry, howl, whimper and make many other sounds.  You can learn to interpret these sounds and see how they fit the body language that your dog is using.

For lessons in canine body language you can take your dog to a dog park for a morning or afternoon of play.  Here you will be able to watch many different dogs, as well as your own, and see how they display different kinds of body language.  Most of the body language will be used in play but you will see a wide range, as well as some examples of more serious body language.


Tagged with:

Filed under: About Dogs