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Reading Your Dog’s Body Language

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Today we have a special guest post from Canine Journal:

Just because dogs can’t talk doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings and emotions. Dogs, similar to humans, can also wear their hearts on their sleeves. The better we learn to recognize how they communicate, we better we know what our furry friend is telling us through dog body language.  It can be somewhat obvious to recognize if and when your dog is happy, hurt or angry. But what you may not notice are the subtle signs that show deeper emotions.

There are 4 key emotions that affect a dog’s behavior. It can be difficult sometimes to recognize the difference when your dog is showing a mix of one or more behavior. So get to know the different states and you’ll be able to understand your pup.

1. Aggression

A sure sign of an aggressive dog is a tense tail –  rigid and high tail positions means steer clear because they are in a state of unrest. Another sign is a closed mouth that is an indication that something (i.e. another canine) is holding their attention. Stiff, raised hair on back of neck is another sure sign of a dog that is tense. Beware because an aggressive dog can lead to aggressive behavior.

2. Submissive

michelle-with-lilly-and-bellaUnlike aggressive, a submissive dog has a relaxed tail. They tend to look away (especially around people) which shows trust. Submissive dogs will be more likely to expose their belly which is another sign of submission. A submissive pup will lick their nose to keep it moist for smelling, but be aware they will also do so when it is nervous or anxious.

3. Timid

Timid dogs have a cowering tail tucked between their legs which is a sign of fear or shame. By curling their tail in between their legs they are showing a sign of discomfort and trying to make themselves seem small. You’ll also notice a timid dog has eyes open wide and its ears pinned against their head. Yawning is another way to eliminate tension and show they are uncomfortable about something. (But could also mean they are tired). Situational shivering can happen in extreme circumstances of trauma but beware because trembling could also mean your dog is sick or excited.

4. Excited

An excited go will have its tail up in air – the higher the tail points the more excited a dog is. If his body is tense, it means he is concentrating on something. A high tail while walking or playing is a sign of enjoyment. If the whole body goes into a tail wag, it is a sure sign of excitement as well. Canines love to show their excitement though body cues, but also with their eyes. Wide-eyes could mean he is overly excited.

You can also tell a lot about what a dog is saying through sounds they makes. Growls, yips, barking, moaning and silence all ways of your dog expressing their emotions. Other behaviors like scratching, panting, chewing and jumping are also signals that sometime indicate that your dog is trying to tell you something. It’s important to get to know your dog and what each of those cues means because they all mean something different and are unique to each dog. Eventually, you’ll be able to better recognize them so you can communicate better with your dog and ultimately have a happier, healthier relationship with your dog.

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Friday 5th of August 2022

Having a well-trained and obedient dog is vital for peace of mind. My puppy had my house full of bad smells, broken furniture, barking had me crazy. This made me seek help from professionals in canine behavior. Best of all, I learned to train my dog, at home, by myself and very easily. I really recommend this training system, because it works!!!:


Monday 10th of November 2014

Raised hackles are just a sign of excitement/arousal - not necessarily aggression. Providing **accurate** info in regards to canine body language and social signals is key to helping humans understand better what is occurring. I would hate to see a happily excited dog punished in some way just because their hackles raised up and were misinterpreted as a negative sign.

I would recommend researching calming signals and canine social signals as outline by behavior experts such as Turid Rugaas.

Paris & John

Monday 10th of November 2014

I don't think this guest poster meant that raised hackles ONLY means aggression but that aggressive dogs will raise their hackles. I love Turid Rugaas' book "On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals." I also love "Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog." They're both part of my personal library, and I find myself going to them time and time again!

Sadie Cornelius

Monday 10th of November 2014

Thanks Paris and John for featuring @michelleschenker:disqus's pups Lily and Bella and these dog body language tips from Canine Journal!