Decoding Your Dog’s Body Language

It’s a lazy Saturday evening, you and your dog are just relaxing on the couch watching some Animal Planet. You reach down to pet him and suddenly he growls, bears his teeth and his ears are sticking straight back. Not to worry, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your sweet angel is being aggressive but rather that something in the environment is stressing her out. Some days, wouldn’t it just be easier if you could read your dog’s mind? According to pet psychology specialists, the key to understanding what your dog is thinking is by really tuning into their body language. Dog’s are more expressive creatures than we realize and they wear their thoughts on their sleeves. Also, after years of living in packs, dogs still communicate using that same pack mentality so learning some telltale signals will help you better understand your dog. Read on to find out how to read your dog’s mind by interpreting and decoding their body language.

#1: Neutral and Relaxed State

Behavior : Your dog is standing with his legs relaxed and his tail low. His ears are up but not pointed forward. His mouth is just slightly opened and his tongue is loose.

Decoded: This behavior means that your dog is fully relaxed and happy. This is a pretty neutral stance for a dog to take up and it means that he doesn’t feel threatened by anything in his environment. In this condition, a dog is very approachable.

#2: Alert and Focused

 Behavior: Your dog is leaning forward slightly and his ears a perked up and facing forward. Their eyes are wide but their forehead and nose are smooth. Their mouth is closed and their tail is held horizontally.

Decoded: When your dog is in this stance, he is alert and has spotted something of interest to him. In this state, your dog is trying to discern whether or not the person, animal or situation is threatening to him in some way. He will typically stay on point until he makes a decision about the situation or becomes distracted.

#3: Playful

Behavior: Your dog has his front legs lowered and bent down, his ears are up and his eyes are wide. They may repeatedly lower themselves into a position that can really only be described as a bow. His mouth is open and relaxed and with tail his tail up and waving. They often break out of this position to run in a random direction, then spin around and bow again. They also tend to let out a high pitched bark that sounds rather impatient.

Decoded: In the dog world, this type of stance is called a “playful bow”. Whether he’s bowing to you or other dogs at the dog park, he’s really sending an invitation to play. When your dog’s being playful, it’s time to ready your good throwing arm. Depending on the breed, you might be in for a few hours of good, rousing fun.

#4: Fearful

Behavior: The dog’s body is lowered into a predatory position, his tail is tucked and the corner of his mouth is pulled back with lips slightly curled. His shoulders, or hackles, are raised and his ears are back. He seems to be walking at a strange crawl with his body poised to run and his eyes are extremely focused.

Decoded: This stance indicates that the dog is frightened and not submissive. The dog has determined that there is a threat in their environment and are preparing to attack. If you encounter a dog in this stance, keep your distance because they may attack if they feel cornered or pressed. The dog’s fight of flight instincts are fully activated and they may either bolt from the scene or circle in closer to attack.

#5: Dominant Aggressive 

Behavior: The dog is standing tall, stiff-legged with his body leaning slightly forward. The tail is raised, stiff and bristled and may appear to be vibrating slightly from side to side. The dog is doing everything they can to make themselves appear larger and more foreboding. His mouth is open and his teeth are being shown and he is snarling, barking or producing a low threatening tone.

Decoded: This animal is very confident and dominant. He is asserting his social dominance and letting those around him know that he may attack if they do not react accordingly. A dog in this stance can either be offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. Offensively aggressive dogs are primed to attack and, because they are both confident and aggressive, they are not likely to back down. On the other hand, if your dog is defensively aggressive, they are less likely to directly attack unless pressed. They tend to bare their teeth and snap or growl if the other party comes near but don’t directly display aggressive behavior. If pressed, defensively aggressive dogs tend to retreat.

#6: Submissive or Fearful

Behavior: When another dog approaches your dog, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in. His eyes are partially closed, his nose is smooth and his ears are flat and back. He might be whining slightly and won’t make direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

Decoded: Your dog is displaying signs of submission. Dogs used to travel in huge packs and if they didn’t want trouble with any of the more dominant and aggressive dogs, they would lie down and roll over to show them that they were submissive and didn’t want to start any trouble. Basically, by rolling over the moment a more dominant dog comes over, your dog is indicating total surrender and submission to avoid any sort of physical confrontation.

(Illustrations via Modern Dog Magazine)

Now that you can read your dog’s mind, let us know what he’s thinking in the comments below.

Written by Priscilla Liang


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