Dog Body Language What to Start Looking At
Understanding a Dog’s Body Language with Pictures and Video
Take time to observe what your dog looks like on a day-to-day basis.
Where does he typically carry his tail? What about his ears? Now compare this to when he’s excited, sleepy, angry, or nervous. Each day, pick a new part of his body to watch (ears, tail, lips etc.) and see how many different ways he changes that one body part and connect that with the way he seems to feel. Happy, tired, stressed, etc.
Tense vs. Loose-
One of the quickest ways to evaluate your dog’s mood is to look at his body as a whole and look to see if his body is loose or tense. A loose body is when you are looking at your dog and, if you imagine touching him, his body would be soft, wiggly, and move easily. This loose body tends to mean a dog is happy and comfortable. On the other end of the spectrum, is, if you look at your dog an imagine touching him, his body would be hard, stiff, and tense. This usually indicates the dog is stressed, anxious, or not in the mood for interactions.
Back vs. Forward-
Another quick tip to remember is back vs. forward. When a dog or any of his body parts (ears, tail, mouth, etc.) move backward, that means he is starting to feel a bit stressed and anxious. If he starts to move forward, he is becoming more aroused and possibly threatening. Now, that doesn’t mean if your dog is casually walking toward you he is angry. It’s more about his body position. If you are interacting with your dog, and he moves his body away from you (looks away, steps back, etc.) this might mean he’s finished with the interaction and ready for something different.
When dogs are happy, their eyes have a sparkle to them. They will look like they normally do in their daily lives, soft and friendly. If dogs’ eyes look larger or smaller than usual or do not blink, they may be stressed or angry. It’s also important to note that dogs do not like direct staring, as this can be threatening. When you are looking at your dog, do not stare and keep your eyes loose, blink and look away at times.
Lips and Mouth-
A dog tends to be relaxed when his mouth looks soft and maybe even open a bit to allow a little light panting. If you notice that your dog had a soft, open mouth, and he suddenly closed it, and his lips became tight and small, he is likely uncomfortable. If your dog ever pulls his lips back and you see his teeth, he is growling and very stressed.
Ears are a funny part of a dog’s expression. Ears come in a variety of shapes and sizes: some are floppy or pointy, and others are even both floppy and pointy! The important thing to remember is what your dog’s ears look like on a day-to-day basis. Remember from the back vs. forward, the more back they go, the more stressed a dog is.
Take a look at your dog’s back and the fur there. I am guessing his fur is flat and not standing up, unless you have a Rhodesian Ridgeback. A dog has hairs along his backbone that are called hackles. When a dog is scared, angry, or overly excited, some or all of these hairs may stand up, called piloerection.
Have you ever heard someone say a dog wagging his tail is a happy dog? That’s actually not always true. There are a variety of ways a dog may wag his tail. Some dogs don’t even have tails and then you may be looking at his nub and butt! He may hold his tail midway from the ground with a big open tail wag, maybe even moving his butt while doing it. This is usually a sign he is very happy. A dog also may drop his tail very low to the ground while wagging it. This may indicate he’s a little nervous or submissive. Another common way a dog may wag his tail is to hold his tail very high, sometimes even over his back, pointing toward his head. This type of wag may indicate that he is overly aroused. A dog wagging his tail is just a way he is communicating; it’s up to us to determine what he is saying.
Happy and Calm-
When your dog is telling you he’s happy but not overly excited, this is a great time to interact with him. Keep doing what you are doing. You can think of this as a green light for go.
Shy or Unsure-
If you are with your dog, and he seems insecure or nervous about what you are doing, give your dog more space and slow your actions down. Rethink the current activity and try something else. You can think of this as a yellow light where you need to slow down and use caution.
Angry or Overly Excited-
If your dog is showing signs of anger or is so excited he cannot control himself, it’s time to calmly walk away. You can think of this as a red light, stop, and possible danger.
Time for Confusion-
Sometimes a dog may show signs of stress and happiness at the same time. Yes, these complex creatures like to keep us on our toes and keep us guessing. Whenever your dog seems a bit conflicted with his emotions, give him more physical and mental space. Maybe change what you are doing with your dog to something you know he really enjoys.
Putting it Together-
Now that you are on your way to truly understand what your dog is trying to say to you, what do you do with that information? If you want to have a great relationship with your dog, it is essential to understand when your dog is happy, scared, playful, tired, angry, frustrated, or excited and act accordingly.
Here are some of my favorite videos on dog body language.
What part are you going to watch first? Tell me in the comments.
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