As I am sure you already know, a dog speaks in body language far better than it does vocally. This is why hand signals work better for training canines than simply vocal commands on their own. Learning to “speak dog” by understanding their body language, how their eyes, mouth, ears, tail, barks and body try and speak to you, improves your relationship with your pooch! It also comes in handy for reading your dog in situations where you might have anxiety such as dog parks, around children or on the usual vet visits. Read on for some dog speak tips that I have learned over the years that might help your communication with your canine improve!
How is your dog feeling?
RELAXED: If your dog is feeling relaxed, their eyes should be squinted with lots of blinking and no facial tension around the eyes or forehead.
EXCITED or STRESSED: Your dog’s eyes will look very similar in moments of excitement or stress. You will see lots of white around the eye on a dog who is excited or stressed but the difference is that in a stressed situation, their gaze will be averted from the stimuli. This is the dog’s way of saying, “You’re freaking me out. Relax, I’m no threat to you.” If they change to a hard stare in the eyes of a human or canine, this is a challenge and you should remove them or distract them immediately.
ALERT: If your dog is alert, their eyes will be rounded which means they are wide open. Blinking will be far more rapid (so they don’t miss a thing!), muscles will be tight around their face and their “eyebrows” will be raised in a “ready for any move” kind of manner (like Luna’s picture, up top!). You will see very little white in the eye of an alert dog.
HAPPY: Happy pups have sweeping tails! This means the movement is fluid, broad, slow and usually in line with the dog’s spine. This could also be a sign that the dog is relaxed.
PROTECTIVE/OVER-STIMULATED: The tail of an overly excited dog who means (aggressive) business is one with a tail that has sharp bursts of movement and the tail is located high above the body.
SCARED/SAD/UNCOMFORTABLE: This is the dog tail we are all familiar with; it is a tail that is low, between the dog’s legs and curves with the spine of the dog.
NOT A THREAT: A dog who wants other dogs or humans to know that they’re not a threat will yawn. This is obviously a sign of a sleepy dog, as well!
RELAXED/HAPPY: A relaxed dog or one who is comfortable with it’s surroundings will have an open mouth. When dogs are playing with other dogs, keep an eye on mouths. An open mouth during play means they’re having fun and they want the partner to know they are not a threat. A closed mouth indicates that the dog is uncomfortable.
TENSE: If lips are pulled back and the dog shows some teeth, the dog is tense. Remove them from the environment immediately! If the lip starts to curl back to reveal the incisor teeth, a snarl is sure to follow and aggression is eminent.
STIMULATED: A stimulated dog or one who’s attention has been caught will have a kind of closed mouth “grin”!
ATTENTIVE: Dogs who are attentive or stimulated by something will lift or tilt their ears in the direction of whatever has caught their attention. Dogs will begin to move their ears forward, to the front of their heads, if their attention intensifies.
UNCOMFORTABLE: Dogs who are uncomfortable have the familiar ears-flat-against-the-head look. Be alert as to what stimulates this discomfort, as it could also be apprehension and/or aggression.
FEELING THREATENED: If a dog feels threatened, this will give a type of “warning” with their ears. This warning is a sequence of their ears being forward in attention and flat down against their head. Keep an eye out for this if a strange dog is doing it!
NEUTRAL: Muscles around the ear will be relaxed on a dog who is feeling “just right”. Their ears will be tilted slightly forward and their body language will speak that they’re A-OK.
FORCEFUL: If a dog is in a forceful or confident mood, their bodies will be very square and tense. They will appear to be stiff and will be standing as tall as they can manage. They might stand perfectly still in this manner or trot in a horse-like manner.
RELAXED: A relaxed dog obviously has their muscles in full relaxation mode. They have slow, fluid, calm movements and if they lay down, this is true evidence that they are in a situation where they are comfortable. If your dog does this in a dog park, they are showing complete comfort.
TENSE: A tense dog will curve it’s spine, making it appear rounded.
SUBMISSIVE: The ultimate form of submission for a dog is showing off it’s stomach. If a dog rolls over for you or another dog, it is saying, “I am of no threat, do what you will of me!”
I hope these few little tidbits of information about the body language of dogs help improve your dog speak! Let me know of a situation where you used dog speak to read your dog or a strange dog you may have encountered!