Communicating with a Dog: Part 2


Learn to interpret your dog’s posture. The ways in which a dog holds its body can tell you a great deal about its mood and emotions. Many of the signals will be subtle and it can take some time to learn all of its expressions but it is well worth the effort.

dog_comm4Identify playful and affectionate behavior. Dogs communicate easy confidence and a desire to play through posture and body signals.

  • Confident stance: A dog that is feeling confident will stand tall, have its tail up and probably wagging slowly, its ears will either be pricked up or relaxed, and it will generally look relaxed. Its eyes will have smaller pupils as they are also relaxed.
  • Bowing: Facing you and with head and chest dipped low to the ground, front legs splayed out, and with rear end and tail up is a clear invitation to play. This is known as the “play bow”. It can be mistaken by owners as an attack stance but it clearly denotes playtime.
  • Hip swings: Hip swings or nudges are another sign of play.This involves the dog swinging around another dog and knocking them to the ground using the backside (the end of the dog without teeth!). When the dog’s rear is presented to you, it is an indication of trust and depending on your dog, it might mean your dog wants a scratch. Wiggling its rear end is a sign of excitement and friendliness.
  • If a dog is stretching with his butt in the air, front legs and paws stretched out in front, and head close to the ground, he is probably feeling playful.
  • If your dog raises his/her paw to touch your knee or another part of your body, the dog wants to get attention, make a request or ask for something, or indicate a wish to play. The gesture begins as a puppy with kneading associated with obtaining mother’s milk but becomes similar to that of offering a hand for a handshake – it’s about connecting and friendship.
  • Repeatedly pawing at the air is often used by puppies as an invitation to play.
  • If a dog’s tail is in a neutral (level with body or slightly lower, he is most likely feeling secure and friendly.
  • If your dog’s tail is fiercely wagging and his/her tail up, he/she is feeling mischievous and inclined to bother and annoy you or a fellow canine! It could also signal swatting away another animal.
  • If your dog is slowly or slightly wagging his/her tail and watching you, he/she is relaxed but alert and is anticipating, ready to play.
dog_comm5Interpret discomfort or unease. Knowing when your dog is uncomfortable or feeling insecure can help you meet the animal’s needs and provide comfort and reassurance when necessary.

  • Pacing can be a sign of nervousness, but it can also be a sign of excitement or boredom. If your dog gets plenty of exercise and entertainment, watch for other signs of nervousness that may accompany the pacing.
  • A dog who feels threatened may raise his/her hackles. This tactic, which involves the raising of the strip of fur running down the middle of the dog’s back, is a dog’s attempt to make itself appear larger than normal. It is not necessarily an aggressive stance but one of “high alert”, making itself ready for whatever may come next. A scared dog can bite, so be extremely careful around a dog raising its hackles.
  • A dog who is frightened or insecure may cower or crouch down. A slight crouch can denote submissiveness or nervousness. A similar stance can be an arched back, slightly bent legs, and the tail down (but not tucked under), and looking at what is concerning it.
  • A dog raising one paw while keeping most of the body away from the person, animal or object creating uncertainty, and backing away is showing uncertainty or puzzlement. If the dog’s head is tilted to one side, this means that the dog is listening, or is uncertain and puzzled and is awaiting more information.
  • A slow tail wag with the tail slightly lowered can indicate that the dog is confused and is asking for an explanation, or is investigating a non-threatening new object.
  • If your dog’s tail is slightly lowered and still, he is alert and watching. If the tail is lowered and is barely moving, it can also indicate insecurity.
  • If there is slight movement with a low tail, this can indicate that the dog is either sad or not feeling well.
dog_comm6Recognize warning signs of aggression. Aggression may lead to unwanted dog fighting or attacks. Recognizing early warning signs of aggression can help your deescalate a situation before it gets worse.

  • A dog whose tail is lowered or tucked between its legs is showing anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Wagging can still occur in this situation, which can lead to the misunderstanding that the dog is happy. This position can also indicate a need for reassurance or protection.
  • A dog that suddenly freezes in the middle of an action is feeling unsure of itself and would rather be left alone, or is preparing for an attack. This is commonplace when a dog is holding a bone; don’t get between the dog and its bone!
  • If your dog leans forward and appears very rigid, he most likely feels aggressive or threatened. This occurs in response to what the dog perceives as a threat or a challenge. The tail will usually be tucked down or under, or wagging in a quick and frantic manner.
  • When a dog is considering an attack or feels threatened, the whites of his/her eyes will likely show as the dog looks at the perceived threat.
  • A dog that was showing signs of aggression but who then shakes the head and shoulders may be signaling the end of a certain level of tension, such as being alert to a threat or an anticipated event that doesn’t occur.

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