Reading Your Dog’s Body Language

Behavior Recent Resources April 3, 2024
Reading Your Dog's Body Language
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Reading Your Dog’s Body Language

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Reading Your Dog's Body Language

Understanding your dog’s communication is crucial, as it involves recognizing nonverbal cues such as body language, vocal signals, and similar signals. These cues can have different meanings in different situations, making it essential to recognize the position of the dog’s body and other vocal signals.

As dogs often rely on body language, which can be easily misunderstood by humans, it is crucial to recognize these nonverbal indicators to better comprehend their intent and emotional state.

Keep reading to get a better understanding of your pup and how to interpret his body language.

1. Tail Wagging

Tail wagging is often oversimplified and assumed to mean the dog is happy or excited. Not always. Basically, all tail wagging means your dog is emotionally aroused in some way. This might mean excitement, anger, or worse.

To determine your pup’s purpose for the tail wagging, look at the speed and direction as well as the position of his tail. The faster the tail wags, the more aroused your dog is. A long, slow, side-to-side wag is a greeting wag or can mean he feels relaxed.

Always pay attention to the direction of the wag. Studies on tail-wagging showed that dogs tend to wag their tail more to the right when they feel positive about something, like greeting their owner. If your dog’s tail wags more to the left, it means your dog is feeling negative. However, if you see the helicopter tail wag, meaning your dog’s tails spin in a circle, that is definitely a happy wag.

2. Downward Dog

When pups lean into the yoga position named after them (butt in the air, chest and front legs stretched out in front), it typically means they’re ready for playtime. Prepare your Frisbee. Pups tend to attain this position when they are happy.

Your furry friend may do this when you come back home from being gone or when you first wake up in the morning. They are excited their human is back in their presence. This is their way of saying, “Hello, I am so happy you are here.” However, you will not see a dog do this to a stranger, as it is a behavior they only share with someone they are comfortable with and truly love.

3. Licking Nose and Lips

When your dog is eating or done eating, licking his nose and lips is his way of cleaning up. So nose-licking is a sign of normal, healthy, and natural dog behavior.

Dogs may also lick their noses to keep their sense of smell intact or to help cool down. If your dog is hot, you may notice him licking his mouth and nose persistently, quickly, or intensely.

Other reasons may be related to anxiety, fear, or a warning sign.

4. Yawning

This may sound strange but yawning is considered a fearful response to your dog’s environment and your pup is most likely eager for the threat to go away. The yawn is then used as a calming signal or a sign that your dog’s patience is running out.

Your dog may also yawn to deal with frustration and to give himself a mental break during a training session.

5. Cowering

If your dog looks like he is trying to make himself smaller or lower, he is most likely anxious and stressed out of fear. This is often a sign that he was mistreated by someone, is sick or hurt, is unsure of his environment, is scared due to misunderstood aggression by a human or another animal, or is maybe just too young to understand what is going on.

6. Tucked Tail

If your dog has his tail tucked between his legs, he is surely fearful of something. Sometimes called appeasement behavior, your pup may be doing this to show he is not in the mood to fight what he is afraid of.

Your dog may also tuck his tail to indicate that he wants to be left alone or is feeling defensive. Anxiety might also cause a dog to tuck his tail under his body if he feels unsettled or frustrated for whatever reason.

7. Shaking

Shaking is often a way for your pup to de-stress and request some space. However, shaking is not always a bad thing for dogs. When your dog gets excited, he will often shake from happiness when being played with or greeting you when you arrive home. This is actually a natural reaction in your pup’s body to exert excess energy and calm him down.

Dogs shiver when they are cold, just like people do. If you live in a cold place and your dog is not built for the weather, consider a doggie coat and some booties. Also, make sure your pup isn’t left outside for too long.

Dogs can shake if they are poisoned by substances that are not necessarily toxic to humans. Some of these toxins include caffeine, xylitol, and chocolate. Environmental types of poisoning may also cause shaking and seizing, like if your dog is exposed to poison ivy.

8. Avoiding Eye Contact

If your dog refuses to look you in the eye, he may be exhibiting caution or avoiding a threat. If you are aggressive or harsh with your dog, he may not want to give you eye contact.

Your dog may also think it is threatening or scary when someone stares at them, especially when making eye contact with them. Eye contact is not something dogs are born understanding or accustomed to doing.

If your dog usually gives you eye contact but has suddenly stopped, it could be that he is feeling guilty about something like getting into the trash can or chewing your favorite shoes. This occurs if your dog is afraid that he will get in trouble for something that he did, and may result in stealing looks from you, avoiding eye contact, and trying to avoid being scolded.

9. Exposing the Belly

If your dog shows you his belly when you arrive home, he is trying to tell you he loves you. This includes the entire body being relaxed, tummy up, and in his most submissive posture, waiting for some love.

In the canine world, hierarchy plays a big part and purposely exposes the vulnerable underbelly, A dog is communicating that he comes in peace and sees you as the alpha or leader.

Always consider the situation and your dog’s temperament when he does this, because it is a highly submissive action. It could actually mean he is fearful, or it may just mean he trusts you to give a good belly rub.

10. Ears Forward

Ears that are perked up or facing forward mean your dog is at attention and prepared for action. Normally, a dog that holds his ears forward is interested in something or someone. However, it may mean several other things as well

This could mean your dog is ready to switch gears and get aggressive or playful, depending on the environment. When you see the ears forward and you scare your pup, this could result in a fear-based response.

Final Thoughts

Dogs not only speak with barks and growls but also with their entire body. Everything from the position of your dog’s ears to the direction of the wagging tail can communicate his feelings. Body language is how dogs communicate with each other and their humans and since they can’t speak our language, it’s our job to understand them.

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Amy Towry is a Certified NAVC Pet Nutritionist and pet lover. She is the proud owner of two rescue cats and a rescue dog and her love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care, nutrition, and product reviews.
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