March 16, 2017
While we don’t share the same vocal language, when you really think about it, we can very effectively and successfully read each other and mutually communicate our needs nonverbally, using body language.
In fact, most of what your dog has to “say” is communicated through her facial expressions, body poses and postures. Some of the key areas of your dog to watch are her head, eyes, mouth/tongue, legs, and tail.
For the most part, canine body language is predictive, universal throughout the species, honest and reliable. Sometimes the expressions can be more subtle, but even with an untrained eye, it won’t take you long to learn what your dog is saying.
You probably spend a fair amount of time watching and observing your dog already, like when she’s playing and frolicking about, having a grand old time. This is a wonderful thing to do. This gives you insight into what she looks like when she’s relaxed. You might notice things like her ears are in a neutral position, her mouth is open and tongue may be hanging out, her tail is down in a loose position (not rigid or tucked), and her gaze is easy.
How about other times? What about your dog meets someone new? Goes to a new place? When she sees something she’s never seen before? Or hears something she’s never heard before?
It’s important we observe our dogs during these times as well; their body language will tell you what they’re thinking. For example, if your dog is on alert but not necessarily behaving in a manner us humans would interpret as fearful or aggressive, you’ll notice numerous signs that she’s assessing the situation. In this case, her ears might be pointing forward, as if trying to pick up a sound, her mouth might be closed, her tail up but not necessarily bristled and maybe even moving side to side, and she may also be leaning forward – all of the things people do when we are trying to make a judgment call about the safety of our surroundings.
And there are several telltale (telltail?!) signs that can help clue you in when your dog is alert or aroused, scared or defensive; these may include hackles raised, tail either straight up in the air like a flag (more alert) or tucked under her legs (more concerned), lips curled and perhaps showing teeth, ears either forward or flattened back, and body shifted forward slightly or lowered. Some of these signs indicate defense, whereas others are more friendly. Raised hackles doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is being “aggressive.” On the flip side, a wagging tail doesn’t always mean “happy.” Remember, each dog is unique and different, so the more you get to know your own inquisitive canine, the better you’ll become at reading his or her emotional state – and the message your pet is trying to communicate.
Learning how to sharpen your canine-human communication is easy when you know what to look for.
- Take a mental snapshot of what your dog looks like (how she acts) when relaxed. This is a great way to establish a baseline of your dog’s friendly behavior.
- When observing your dog at any given time, look at the entire picture, not just a piece.
- Be aware of your dog’s surroundings and the possible effects it may have on her behavior. Anything new? Different? Something she might be afraid of?
- If and when your dog shows any change from that baseline-relaxed appearance, try to determine what the trigger might be, then take note. You may want or need to do some pleasant association training to help your dog relax. The more familiar you are with how she expresses herself, the better able you’ll be able to help her alleviate fear and anxiety and remove her from situations that make her stressed and/or aggressive.
To help you keep track of the various body language your dog displays, please click here to download our DIY Inquisitive Canine Body Language Chart. And, to go further into the world of canine communication, check out the iSpeakDog.org website where you’ll find an assortment of resources to help your communication skills.
What does your dog’s body language tell you? Is there something specific he or she does that you know means something special? Let us know what your inquisitive canine is saying!
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