What Your Dog Is Telling You
Speak Their Language
Did you know your dog is talking to you? Believe it or not, our dogs talk to us every waking minute of every day, sending numerous yet simple visual signals with every breath! In their own way, your pet can tell you very clearly in seconds what it would take some humans hours.
Note: Sometimes signals aren’t simply ‘cut and dry’, but rather a mixture of factors. When discerning a dog’s state of mind, it’s important to consider every aspect!
Depending on the breed, some dogs might be able to manipulate their ears naturally (Spitz type breeds), and some may have less control over their motion (hound type breeds). With that in mind:
- A confident dog will raise his ears up or forward, pointing toward the sky if possible.
- An alert dog will do the same, although often ‘point’ his/her ears toward the direction of any particular sound.
- A scared, injured or hurt submissive dog will lower his/her ears flat and back on his/her forehead.
The first thing humans might see when observing a dog is their tail position, second being their face and ears. Keep in mind, outside of expressing various ‘moods’, dogs can move their ears in order to face sounds and improve hearing.
Ear Cropping is losing popularity among dog owners across the globe. Not only is it a painful procedure for the dog, the ‘pinna’ (ear flap, meant to assist in funneling sound) is shaved down, decreasing hearing ability as well as limiting range of motion.
A dog’s tail is kind of like his own little antenna, sending strong and clear signals to any other dog around him.
People (especially children) tend to interpret a dog’s tail in two main ways:
- Wagging = happy
- Down/between the legs = sad
Of course, it is nowhere near that simple! Yes, a ‘sad’, injured or fearful dog will tend to tuck his tail in an attempt to seem as small and non-threatening as possible, but ‘wagging’ doesn’t always mean he is happy. Aggressive animals might ‘wag’ their tails also.
- A confident dog will hold his tail up high; this can usually be observed with your own dog at home.
- An alert, focused dog might hold his tail straight out behind him, in a sort of ‘pointing’ posture.
- A scared, injured or otherwise hurt dog will likely tuck his tail.
- A content, ‘unopinionated’ dog might relax his tail, lowered, behind him.
- An excited dog will likely wag his tail rapidly back and forth.
Note: the speed/rate of tail wagging can be an indicator; rapid wagging usually does indicate excitement.
Tail Docking (removing most of the tail at the upper vertebrae) both limits a dog’s ability to communicate as well as decreases scenting ability, as tails are often used to ‘funnel’ scent particles toward the nose when tracking.
*Look twice here. This dog is displaying a clear submissive posture while the boy attempts to pet him. Licking of the mouth could indicate anxiety.
Below are listed a few ‘common signals, or common ‘moods’. Most people easily pick up on these, even if subconsciously.
‘Leave Me Alone’ (Submission)
Dogs trying desperately to avoid confrontation or otherwise go unnoticed will tuck their tails in between their legs (usually accompanied with ears held back and low to the forehead as well as a slumped posture. Essentially these dogs are trying to seem as small and non-threatening as possible.
It would be a good idea to heed these signals; the animal is uncomfortable for a reason (human presence could very well be it). Bear in mind- dogs are an intelligent species, and will always prefer to flee or otherwise avoid physical confrontations that, in their perspective, could result in either harm or their death. When confronted with this ‘fight or flight’ option, flight not being possible, they might just lash out in defence. Many people have been bitten as a result, of course through no fault of the dogs.
*These two are at play. Notice the differences in facial expressions.
A strictly dominant dog will maintain a tall, rigid posture with direct eye contact (or will not avoid eye contact). His tail will not be tucked, but otherwise held either rearward or up in the air pointing toward the sky. He will not make any effort to seem small, but rather seem like he has perfect, rigid posture. His ears will stand (if possible with the breed) straight up towards the sky.
Go Away / This is My Territory (Dominance Aggression)
This type of dog will likely show the signals above, with the addition of bared teeth and a slightly forward posture as if he is preparing to lunge. This doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to cause you harm, but rather the dog is likely trying to tell you to back off.
Note: There will be a noticeable difference between a dominant aggressive and a submissive/fearful aggressive animal. While they both might be bearing their teeth, snarling or otherwise appearing vicious, the fearful animal will probably be displaying a hunched posture with a lower tail and more of a ‘wrinkled looking’ muzzle.
*Notice the facial expressions of the two dogs. The smaller dog’s muzzle has a sort of ‘wrinkled’ look, while his ears are laying back on his head.
A playful or excited dog will probably wag his tail at a fast, even rapid, pace, while displaying a relaxed ‘smile like’ open mouth. This dog’s ears will stand up (as far as the breed can). A playful dog might even ‘bow’ in the direction of another in anticipation!
Raised fur along your dog’s back merely indicates ‘arousal/excitement’, not necessarily aggression as many think. This doesn’t always mean your dog is angry. Though today’s domesticated dogs might manipulate just a small but of fur in this way, the wolves they descended from will sometimes raise the fur along their entire bodies- making them look much larger.
*Remember, innocent play will often resemble violent aggression. Though the dog below is not shown, he is exposing his vulnerable areas (belly, neck) as a sign of submission.
And finally, when you see them do that super cute begging face and it’s been a while since their last treat, it may be time to break out some Peacebone – Just sayin’.