Dogs communicate with each other through body language—they rarely bark at each other. They use barking as a warning or signal. To understand your dog better, you should learn to read his body language.
In deciphering dog body language, the tail is not the only part you should take note of. The position of the entire body, the ears, the mouth, and the facial expressions should also be taken into consideration. In this piece, we’ve grouped the most common canine postures into three major categories for easy reference. Take a look at each and what they mean.
- Ready to have fun When dogs and puppies are in a playful mode, they will do the ‘play bow.’ Amongst humans, this looks like the ‘downward dog’ pose in yoga practice. The front body part is lowered and the front paws are bent. The lower half of the body is raised, with the tail up and wagging. The rump may sometimes wiggle. The tongue is usually exposed and relaxed, and the mouth is open. Dogs usually stay in this position very briefly before doing something else.Tip: You can invite your dog to a game by doing the human version of the play bow. Squat and when your pet responds with the play bow, begin your playtime.
- Wants to make friends with other dogs Canine pets strike a friendship by circling each other whilst adopting a relaxed but wiggly body posture. Their bodies are curved and may play bow with each other. Their tails are wagging and they may sniff each other’s rump.
- Hello/Welcome The dog does a stretching movement, which makes him appear as if he’s doing yoga. He may also put his forepaws on your thigh and stretch himself as he looks at you. A dog never greets strangers with this stretch.
- Curious or interested in something When something catches their eye, dogs’ ears will be pricked although the mouth is relaxed and closed. The tail is in a horizontal position but not stiff and may slightly move side to side. The body slightly leans forward and the eyes are a bit wide. In this mode, dogs are still determining whether what they observed is okay or not and whether they should do something.If your dog does a play bow posture but with a stiffer tail and wider eyes, he’s concentrating on something he sees as a prey. It could be a toy or a smaller creature.
If the dog’s body, neck, and head are at level position, with legs bent and ears alertly facing forward, he is stalking. This is another way of reacting to prey. This is usually playful behaviour if the perceived prey is a toy or a harmless object.
- Relaxed This is the neutral stance of canine pets. Although the head is high and the ears are alert, the body is not stiff. The dog’s mouth is open with the tongue exposed to one side. The facial expression is calm, with blinking or squinting eyes. The tail and the legs are also relaxed.
Agitated to Fearful
- Shy Some dogs are more nervous with new people than others and take time to warm up. They indicate their shyness by flattening their ears backward and crouching low on the ground. This is their way of making themselves small.
- Needing reassurance Puppies wanting to be assured of your friendship will lower their bodies. Their ears will be drooped or flattened, whilst their tails are low and faintly wagging. They may also lick you or another dog’s face or touch you with a paw.When your dog does this, acknowledge him calmly as his canine mother would. Offer him an open hand so he can sniff you and be reassured that your friendship with him is fine. Too much affection may reinforce this behaviour and turn it into an undesirable habit.
- Stressed When canines are anxious or stressed, they may lick their lips, yawn, or even shake their bodies. They may also drool, have sweaty paws, pant, and even do the ‘whale eye.’ The whale eye is when the dog continues to look at the threatening presence even as he turns his head in another direction. As such, the whites of his eyes are visible.The more signs of distress a dog shows at one time, the more fearful he is.
- Submission/Appeasement To defuse a threat and avoid injuries, a dog may show a submissive posture to a human or a more aggressive dog. He may turn his head, lower or bob his head, lower his tail or tuck it between his legs, lower his body and even curve it downwards, and turn his eyes to another direction.
- Total submission This is when a dog rolls on his back, exposing his throat and stomach and tucking his tail towards his belly. His eyes are partially closed and head is turned to the side to avoid direct eye contact. His ears are flattened backwards and his nose and forehead are smooth. He may even tinkle a little. This is the canine equivalent of waving the white flag. He is telling you or another dog that he is not a threat. This is not a signal for humans to tickle his belly.
- Scared In this mode, the dog may show signs of being stressed through dilated pupils and a wrinkled nose. The lips may be slightly curled and even tense. Some of his teeth may be visible and his tail, which is low and between his legs, may not move. Although frightened, a pooch in this posture is not submissive and has the potential to attack when pressured further.
- Suspicious A dog who does not want to be touched or approached will have a stiff body and raised tail. His head and neck are high and may lean forward, ready to jump into an altercation. His hackles may also be raised. His nose and forehead are wrinkled and his lips are curled, showing his teeth and gums. His ears are pricked forward and his eyes are glaring and hard. He may even snap at the air.Tip: Direct eye contact is threatening to some canine pets. Never return a dog’s stare if he is showing signs of fear or aggression. However, if he is in a playful or relaxed mood, direct eye contact is his way of asking for a treat or affection.
How to Greet Dogs Appropriately
To make your encounters with your pet (or those of others) more harmonious, you must be calm when saying hello to a canine. This helps you avoid reinforcing bad habits, such as jumping up on you or barking excessively. Mother dogs would calmly greet their pups without vocalisations. Take your cue from them!
In greeting other dogs, especially those you just met, you should:
- Wait for the dog to approach you.
- Avoid eye contact.
- Calmly pet him on the side of his body or face when he does approach you.
Learn to decipher more dog codes with these dog behaviour tips! Don’t forget to share this information with other pet owners!