You can easily understand a dog’s non-verbal communication, if you make an extra effort to learn and infer his body language. Once you are able to identify his signals of communication, you will be able to foresee his future actions and build a better relationship with him. You can also protect him and yourself from dangerous situations, once you are able to recognise his overall expressions.
Dogs are as expressive as human beings are. They have several emotions, which they convey in different ways. Dogs make use of their face, ears and tail to speak with you. The key in understanding your dog’s feelings and motives is to be aware of what each of these body parts are trying to get across to you. Here is a rundown on each of them.
Facial expressions tell all!
Eyes: Your dog’s eyes can tell a lot about his feelings. Dogs generally have round or almond shaped eyes. When your dog is calm and happy, his eyes will appear normal. However, when he is feeling threatened or unsafe, his eyes will appear larger than normal. In addition, if his eyes appear smaller than normal, he could be feeling afraid of something, or stressed out. When your dog is feeling unwell, you will notice a squint in his eyes.
The way your dog stares at other dogs, at people and at you, speaks a lot. Dogs avoid looking directly at each other since it is considered intimidating. Nevertheless, they feel that it is pleasant to look directly at people. When a dog looks at you with a peaceful facial expression, he is trying to be friendly with you. He wants you to be aware of his presence. When he fixedly stares at you, it means he is feeling threatened and you must immediately look away. A dog who turns his gaze away when you look at him is a sign of submission. It can also mean that he is not very comfortable interacting with you, as he may have had a bad experience with other people in the past. When your dog is chewing a bone or is playing with his favourite toy, he will refrain from looking at you directly. Instead, you will notice him looking at you from the corner of his eyes, wherein you will notice a great deal of his whites, called the ‘whale eye’. It is a signal that he can have an aggressive flare-up. When a dog is taking rest, he may open his eyes and look at you from the sides; here you will not see much of the white portion in his eyes, as he is not rigid, but at complete ease.
Mouth: In spite of not being able to speak with his mouth, a dog’s mouth yet does a lot of talking. The positioning of his jaws, teeth and lips can give you an insight about his feelings. You will find your dog’s mouth slightly opened or closed, if he is in a relaxed state of mind. When he is panting, his mouth will be open and teeth exposed. He needs to cool himself this way. When a dog is afraid or meek, his mouth is closed and lips are drawn back at the corners. He will take his tongue in and out, and he may lick a person or an animal, if he happens to meet them. When a dog is feeling anxious, he will yawn in an overstated manner.
Your dog can display a submissive grin, when he is feeling exceedingly submissive. He will pull his lips upward, wherein you will be able to view his frontal teeth. He will lower his head, bark or whine and his eyes will get squinty. Not all dogs grin in this fashion. People often misunderstand this grin to be aggression, whereas your dog is actually trying to express the opposite. An aggressive dog will always pull back his lips to flaunt his teeth. He will pull his lips up in a vertical direction, where you will see the front of his teeth. At the same time, he will wrinkle the top of his muzzle. This is a warning that you should not get any closer to him.
When a dog draws his lips backward in a horizontal direction, his lips get tight at the corners. His front and back teeth are exposed. This is a sign of a dog being scared. Nevertheless, when a dog is prepared to bite, he will pull his lips upwards and backwards, enabling his mouth to open and display his teeth.
Focus on ears
The shape and size of your dog’s ears show how well he can use them to express himself. A Beagle’s ears are usually drooped, a German Shepherd has prickled ears and the ears of a Basset Hound hang long. When your dog is peaceful and stress-free, he will hold his ears in a natural manner. The moment he becomes alert, he will raise his ears higher on his head and point them towards the object that is holding his attention. When your dog is in an aggressive state, he will raise his ears upward and forward. If he pulls back his ears faintly, he is giving the signal of being friendly. If he makes his ears flat or if he sticks them to the sides of his head, he is feeling submissive or afraid.
Swish of the tail
We are generally under the impression that when a dog wags his tail, he is trying to be friendly. Well, that is not the case. A dog can wag his tail for various reasons, such as when he is feeling happy or when he is aggressive. There are times he may not wag his tail and yet be friendly. Dogs have different kinds of tails, though the natural tail is the one that hangs down. Some dogs have tails that curl upward above their backs, such as a Pug. Then there are dogs whose tails are tucked in between their rear legs, such as the Greyhound. A few breeds have tails that are naturally short or are docked surgically due to cosmetic reasons, such as the Doberman Pinscher.
When your dog is feeling relaxed, you will see his tail held at its natural place. He will wag his tail lightly, when he is happy. And when he is immensely happy, he will wag his tail vigorously from side to side, which often happens when he greets you after being away from you for a while. Your dog will tuck in his tail between his rear legs, when he is tensed or submissive. When your dog is feeling afraid or extremely submissive, he will hold his tail tight up against his stomach. Sometimes you will notice that your dog’s posture becomes alert due to an unknown sound. At this time, he is feeling aroused and his tail will become stiff, it will not move and he will hold it higher than its natural position. When your dog wants to threaten another animal or a person, he will hold his tail high and stiff and will move it firmly, backward and forward.
So, next time your dog looks at you or says Woof Woof, you should be able to identify his state of mind!
Know Thy Feelings
It is very important for you to know when your dog is feeling happy, frightened, playful, submissive, anxious, dominant, aggressive and confident. When you begin to recognise these expressions, you can interact with him confidently and be his guardian angel when he needs you the most, especially during times of peril.
Happy: A happy dog will wag his tail, open his mouth and pant slightly. He will appear contented and you will not find anything anxious in his body posture.
Playful: A playful dog will be happy and excited. His eyes will shine, ears will be up and his tail will be wagging at a great speed. He will be jumping and running around with joy. His body posture will be signaling you to play with him.
Submissive: A submissive dog will flatten his ears, hold his head down and avoid looking at you. He will lower his tail and swing it slightly. He will roll on his back and show his belly. His body posture may appear small due to a hunch. A submissive dog is generally gentle and meek.
Anxious: An anxious dog will hold his ears a little backward and stretch his neck out. He may moan, yawn or even lick his lips. He will lower his tail and show the whites of his eyes. His posture is tense and he may tremble. At this time, he needs to be calmed down.
Scared: A scared dog will often whine and growl. He may show his teeth and even pass urine. His ears will be flat towards the back, his eyes will appear narrowed, and he will put his tail between his legs and shudder too. He will stand in an uptight position, very low to the ground. A fearful dog can become aggressive if he senses danger.
Dominant: A dominant dog will widen his eyes and make direct contact with you or any other dog. He will raise his ears upward and stay alert. He will appear threatening, rather than being friendly. He will try to claim himself over other dogs. His posture will stand tall and confident. It is best not to make eye contact with him during this time, as he can pose a serious threat.
Aggressive: An aggressive dog will pin his ears backward, feet will be firmly on the ground as if guarding his territory, head will be straight ahead, tail will be straight and held high up, and eyes will be narrowed with a piercing look. His hair along his back will stand on the edge. It is best to avoid making eye contact with him, and not to show any sign of fear. If your dog happens to be aggressive, it is advisable to seek help of a professional trainer to correct this behaviour.
Confident: A confident dog will stand tall, straight and with his head high. His eyes will appear bright and ears perked upwards. His tail will sway lightly or will be in a relaxed position. His mouth will open to a little extent, but he will be calm. He will be friendly and not a threat to his surroundings.