It’s undoubtedly easy to figure out what your dog is telling you when it leaps into your arms after you’ve been away for a while – the wagging tail says it all. However, some of the signals canines give are far more cryptic.
As a dog owner, it’s important to be able to understand and translate your pet’s body language correctly so that you can understand their needs. And even if you don’t own a dog, you want to be able to interpret the actions of canines that you may encounter so that you can distinguish friendliness from hostility.
Here’s a closer look at common dog behaviors and what they may mean:
Slow panting with a calm appearance
When dogs are calm, they may pant subtly. In fact, the panting can be so gentle that you might take it for light breathing. If you ask your pooch to hop along for a walk, you may start to hear heavier breaths; canines tend to pant when they are energetic or joyful. With that said, pay close attention to heavy panting as it could indicate the presence of a chronic illness. When your dog is panting, let them rest for a while and try to provide a relaxed environment.
Lying on belly with ears flattened
Sometimes a canine will lie on its belly with its back relaxed and ears flattened. The dog may also look away and roll onto its back. Is your pet tired? Lazy? Uninterested? In most instances, the canine may only be demonstrating submission. It’s probably trying to say, “I know that you are the boss (you’re my owner).” Or it could be saying to other canines, “I’m not an alpha – I don’t want to fight.” A pooch that skips confrontation with this approach usually makes a good city pet.
Stiff-legged with ears pricked
A tense and stiff-legged canine is usually frustrated. Pets can experience various types of frustration, from the immediate, active type to a longer-term, depressed type. Frustration generally occurs when dogs seeing something unpleasant or are not given what they desire. They may also lunge or bark at the scene of their frustration, or try to escape from it. Their eyes may be unblinking or wide, and if they aren’t barking, their lips will be pursed. Frustration is a very tense state so pets may need lots of loving, careful attention in order to emerge from it.
Head slightly tilted
Have you ever seen your dog’s head slightly titled when you’re speaking? They may be trying to make sense of what your words and actions mean for them. Dogs do a great job at mirroring their parents, and the tilting of the head could mean they empathize with you, or it could just be a signal that they’re trying to be a part of the conversation. One good idea is to acknowledge their attempt by patting them on the head. Based on the dog’s breed, expect some variances with the swings and motions of the head.
Upright body with ears flattened
Angry dogs try to make themselves look as threatening and big as possible, with a hard, upright posture and flattened ears. Their lips will also be tense and their mouth open, with their nose and muzzle wrinkled as they reveal their teeth. Moreover, they’ll be leaning forward on their front legs, ready to attack or lunge – a genuinely angry dog is usually ready to pounce! Move carefully if you see your canine (or any other canine) showing this body language, especially until the anger goes away. Also, avoid shouting or staring at them or making any movements, but give them space to calm down.
Continuous barking with tail tucked in between the legs
Rapid, loud barking is often a sign that your canine is alert. They may have spotted somebody in their territory – like a mailman – and they want to alert their owner (along with the other pets in the neighborhood). Deep, loud barks are often a warning to visitors: “Don’t try to get too near, I don’t know who you are.” If you are near a dog engaged in heavy, loud barking (including your own dog), proceed with caution when they showcase this body language. However, if it’s a yelping bark, it could be a sign that they need urgent care. With that said, even an injured dog demands a cautious approach as they may interpret your concern as a threat, not as a desire to help.
While the world would indeed be a better place if our canines could speak to us, the reality is that it’s up to us –the parents – to learn how to interpret our pet’s body language. Once you know what’s normal and what isn’t, you’ll be better equipped to identify when your pooch is sick, happy or stressed, and when they’re up for a walk or just want to relax.