When you meet someone for the first time one of the ways that we can tell a bit about them, is their body language. A person’s body language is a nonverbal way of communicating. Things like their facial expressions, the way they shake your hand, or look at you when they talk to you. These movements are very similar to the way that a person that plays poker that has a tell shows us.
Things like a strong handshake means a person may be confident, while a weak one can mean they are insecure.
Well what about a dogs’ body language? What can their tells teach us about how they are feeling about meeting a new person or another dog. Dogs just like people give things away when you meet them.
Learning to become aware of these physical indications we see can go a long way in better understanding our dogs’. It is their way of communicating with us.
Because our dogs’ can’t talk and tell us things that they feel, they do it instead in their posture and movements. Everyone wants a confident and happy dog, but what does that look like. How do we know?
Well there are clear and present indications that we can look for that show us.
- Ears up straight
- Standing up straight like at attention
- Head held high
- Mouth appears calm
- Tail hanging in a relaxed position
These indicators will tell us that our dogs’ are open and comfortable with their surroundings. This is would be a great time to introduce them to other dogs’, or new people. They are ready for new experiences with an open mind.
One of the easiest times I find to read a dogs’ body language is when they are exhibiting playfulness. They crouch down with their legs stretched forward, tail wagging and their mouth open with a smile. Yes a smile! Dog laughter and open mouth smiling is easily spotted.
With their ears perked up and maybe even some jumping or running around is your dog telling you that they are ready to go. Let the games begin.
Their posturing is much more relaxed, not stiff or unnerving. You can feel the excitement and happiness that they are sharing.
My doodle FINN, was the most playful dog and his indications were impossible to miss. His movements, just made you laugh and giggle. He would start with the crouch down than move like a fast rabbit sprinting and bouncing all over the yard. Then just stop on a dime and make funny little barking or squealing sounds. Honestly he would just make me laugh so hard. We used to say he was a like a deer out there. LOL.
Being playful is one of my absolute favourite times around any dog. It is like being surrounded by puppies, even though you are actually surrounded by older dogs’. Their inner puppy in them is bursting out of their body.
I said above that playfulness was my favourite body language from a dog, well aggressive posturing is my absolute least favourite. An aggressive acting dog appears with extreme signals :
- A Stiff tails
- Standing with a bit of a lean forward
- Ears forward spread apart in an almost V shape or completely bend back
- Crinkled up nose
- Mouth open but showing teeth
- Lips curled
- Hair standing up on their back
Aggressive dogs’ are very unpredictable simply because that aggression is likely from fear that they are feeling. They are acting completely unsure of the situation and are on an on-guard type position. Like at any point they could or will lunge forward towards the oncoming movement. Barking loudly and repetitively with growling teeth is also very evident.
When you are in a situation where you see the dog giving you see this type of reactions, it can also be their way of showing dominance. They feel like they are the ones being threatened.
In these types of situations, I would never approach a dog that is acting this way. If you are with your dog and you see this from another dog, you and your dog walk away.
We don’t get the luxury of knowing what that dog has been through in their life and how they may react if we approach. Protecting you and your dog is the most important thing.
Fear and anxiousness
A dog that is aggressive is stiff while a dog that is full of fear or anxious exhibits a much overall lower stance. They are usually crouched very low with their tail completely tucked between their legs.
Their eyes squint or narrow and they generally they will not look in your eyes simply because they are looking elsewhere.
They can appear to be shaking, trembling, even growling. The difference between a dog growling from fear than aggression, is very different from each other. The growling may appear more like a meek whine and mild-mannered from outright angered growling.
This fear is their way of saying that they are not comfortable in the current social situation. If this behavior is coming from your dog, immediately leave the area with them.
It is best not to force your dog into a situation that they are afraid of. Appear calm and confident for your dog as you leave. This may help them feel a little less stress. Dogs certainly do pick up on our body language, so if you are afraid or unsure they will pick up that feeling from you.
Do not punish or even comfort your dog at this point for their behavior. Just remove yourself and dog from the situation.
What about submissive or acting dominate
One of the more difficult and hard to read actions from our dogs’ is submissive vs dominant behavior. It is very easily misunderstood.
When 2 dogs’ are playing is probably the most obvious situation is one standing over the other. While the other maybe laying on their back with their belly exposed. Now this is not a dominant behavior, but a way that 2 dogs’ see themselves in dog hierarchy or pecking order if you will. It is a natural situation between dogs’ that just happens.
The dog laying on his or her back is submitting effectively saying that it means no harm at all. They are of no threat. While the dog standing above isn’t really acting dominate, but more playing a part of in overall dog dynamics.
Dogs that are truly acting dominate does not come from a behavior so much as just exercising their play in a relationship with another dog or person.
When we had our 2 boys, they always got along so well, but funny enough our little dog BOO was the more dominate one over FINN who was the much larger dog. FINN would be the one on the ground with his belly exposed while BOO was almost bouncing on him as they played.
Dominance is not aggressive behavior, which is why it is the so misunderstood. As you get to know your dog and their personality you will be able to easily spot their body language. You will develop a great understanding of what their movements and postures tell you about them and how they are feeling.
Anytime you are concerned or feel uneasy around a dogs’ behavior, always take yourself out of the situation. Unpredictability in a dog can be scary and take a bad turn very quickly. Nobody wants to get caught in a bad situation.
I hope my tips on how to understand a dogs’ body language offer you some insight into what our dogs’ are trying to tell us.