It’s no surprise that dogs and humans don’t speak the same verbal language. However, besides verbal communication, humans also communicate through body language. It’s no different for dogs and the best way to improve your relationship with your pup is by understanding dog body language.
Understanding dog body language will help you in knowing how your dog is feeling. To do this you need to pay close attention to some subtle signs.
Reading a dog’s different body parts separately
Humans pick up body language from the way we place our arms, hands, feet, and by our facial expressions. Dogs also communicate through specific body parts. Here are a couple of them you can keep an eye on.
The dog’s ears
A dog’s ears are easier to read when they have short and erect ears. But even in dogs with long ears you’re able to see changes by looking at the base of the ears.
- Ears pointing back: it’s a sign of low energy which can mean a dog is feeling relaxed, worried, or submissive.
- Ears pointing forward: a sign of high energy which can mean a dog is feeling excited, playful, or aggressive. When they’re pointing forward, they usually point to whatever is catching the dog’s attention.
The dog’s eyes
Some people say that the eyes are windows to the soul and it’s no different for dogs. When interpreting a dog’s eyes, pay close attention to the white part of the eyes and the intensity and focus of the dog’s look.
- Round eyes: sometimes even showing the white part around the eye. This can mean that a dog is feeling aggressive, threatened, or scared.
- Dilated pupils: it’s a sign of arousal. It can mean a dog is feeling threatened, scared, or excited about something and paying close attention.
- Squinted eyes: and not showing any of the white part around the eye. The muscles around the eyes don’t have any tension. This can mean a dog is feeling relaxed.
- Fixed eye contact: can mean a dog is paying attention to something or feeling aggressive and challenging another dog or a human.
- Round eyes and looking away: it’s a sign that a dog is feeling scared. They usually look away from whatever is threatening them.
The dog’s mouth
- Open with tongue out: this is a common sign that dogs are happy and relaxed. They can even be panting and won’t have any facial or mouth tension. The corners of the mouth may be turned upward which can look like they’re smiling.
- Mouth closed: suddenly closing their mouth is a sign that dogs may be feeling fear or stress. The corners of the mouth can be pulled back.
- Drooling: drooling while there isn’t food around can be a sign of extreme fear or stress.
- Showing teeth: usually means a dog is feeling aggressive and giving out a warning sign or it can be a sign of submission and fear.
The dog’s tail
When looking at a dog’s tail you should pay attention to its position and wagging speed.
- Tail down: a sign of insecurity and fear, especially when the tail is tucked between the back legs. If the tail is slightly lowered, it can mean the dog is relaxed.
- Tail neutral: a sign that a dog is feeling relaxed or paying attention to something.
- Tail up: it’s a sign of high energy. It can mean a dog is happy, playful, or aggressive.
- Slow wagging: usually a sweeping and slow side to side movement that can mean a dog is relaxed.
- Fast wagging: shows excitement. It’s a sign that a dog wants to play or is feeling aggressive.
Understanding dog body language to recognize common emotional states in dogs
Looking at one single body part isn’t enough to understand what a dog is feeling. Although it’s a great starting point, you need to look at a dog’s body posture as a whole. That’s the best way to understand what your dog is trying to communicate.
Not every dog running towards you is going to bite you. If a dog has his mouth open, tongue sticking out, and a relaxed body it means it’s being playful, not aggressive. Likewise, if a dog is showing his teeth it doesn’t mean it’s aggressive and going to bite. If a dog is looking away, keeping a lowered body, it’s showing submission.
Next are some usual signs that dogs show depending on what is their emotional state:
- Relaxed: the ears are up with the head held high. The mouth is slightly open and showing the tongue. The tail is down and relaxed.
- Playful: the ears are up and with dilated pupils. The mouth is also open and showing the tongue. The front end is be lowered because of the bent paws. The tail is up and wagging broadly.
- Alert: the ears are pointing forward (towards whatever is catching the dog’s attention). The eyes are round and the mouth closed. The dog’s body is leaning slightly forward and with straight legs. The tail is neutral.
- Scared: the ears are pointing back and the pupils dilated. The nose is wrinkled and teeth can be showing. The hair along the spine is raised. The body is lowered and the tail tucked between the legs.
- Aggressive: ears forward (may even spread to the side forming a wide ‘V’ shape). Wrinkled nose and showing his teeth (sometimes even the gums are visible). The hair along the spine is raised. The tail is up and stiff and the legs are straight and stiff with the whole body leaning slightly forward.
By understanding dog body language you’ll be able to tell if a dog is being friendly or scared. That way you’re able to act accordingly and avoid keeping your dog in a situation that is causing stress.
Besides, it’s a great help when training your dog at home as the best time to start a training session is when your dog is feeling relaxed. It’s also not productive to keep pushing with training when your dog starts showing signs of stress. So if your dog starts showing signs of stress it means it’s time to stop. When disciplining your dog you want to work towards creating a positive experience.