As pet parents, we must learn to adapt to how our dog communicates to better understand their perspective. Humans are verbal communicators, whereas dogs communicate more through body language and energy. Learning your dog’s language is helpful as you continue to build a deeper bond and especially during the dog training process. Dogs can’t verbally communicate their needs. For this reason, becoming familiar with their body language will be helpful during times when they are stressed, anxious, or unsure about a person, place, or another dog. Here are some key signs to look for so you can better meet the needs of your pup and advocate for them as they navigate the world.
How to Know When Your Dog is Stressed or Scared
If your dog seems to be trying to avoid something, they are probably stressed. Your dog may turn their head away or avoid making eye contact with you. If your pup is stressed, they may deflect by sniffing the floor/ground or randomly begin scratching or licking themselves. Scared, stressed, or anxious dogs may pace, cower, shake or tremble.
When your dog feels uncomfortable, they may flatten their ears against their head or tuck their tail tightly between their rear legs. In addition to that, pay attention to your dogs’ eyes. When your dog’s eyes make a whale eye, their pupils dilate and bulge with lots of white showing.
Signs Your Dog May Become Reactive
Our dogs may become reactive to defend themselves, especially if they don’t trust that we will keep them safe in uncomfortable situations. For this reason, it is so essential for you to understand your dog’s body language. It will give you the power to intervene in a situation that could potentially escalate. Just like humans, dogs have their limits too. Your dog will display aggressive behavior as a last resort because they feel they are in an overwhelming or uncomfortable situation.
It is essential to understand your pup’s most subtle changes in body language so you can intervene before your dog reacts. Once your dog becomes reactive in any given situation, it will be more difficult to intervene and calm them back down. Knowing those subtle cues will help you to intervene before your dog reacts.
The first thing you might notice with reactivity is your dog’s body tensing up, a hard stare, and a high-wagging tail. The tail wag will be in shorter motions, so don’t mistake this for a display of happiness.
When a dog becomes agitated or unsure, the area of fur around the back of their neck, also known as the hackles, will raise to show discomfort. If you see your pup’s hair rising, it’s a sign you need to create space or a distraction from what is causing their discomfort. Doing so gives your dog more time to get their bearings and regulate their nervous system.
Signs That Your Dog is Happy
A wagging tail is a sure sign of happiness in your dog! Along with a wagging tail, you’ll also want to look for a relaxed body and a calm demeanor. Whether your dog has perked-up or flat floppy ears, look for a relaxed neutral position in your dog’s body language. Your dog’s mouth might hang open loosely with light panting. Relaxed ears are also a good sign that your dog is happy.
Signs Your Dog Wants to Play
When your dog is ready to play and spring into action, they may drop their front paws on the ground and stick their butt in the air doing a play bow.
Another easy way to tell that your dog wants to play is if they bring you their favorite toy. They may display more bouncy actions when moving around and playing with other dogs, indicating that they are having a good time playing.
Signs your Dog is Relaxed
A loose open mouth, soft eyes, and ears indicate that your dog is relaxed. If you notice your dog gazing at you with soft eyes, this is how they express trust and adoration towards you. Also, a tail that is hanging low indicates that your dog is relaxed.
Signs Your Dog is Trying to Calm Themselves
Like us, our dogs experience stress and need ways to soothe themselves. For instance, nose and lip licking are ways dogs communicate their anxiety. It’s also something they will do to settle their anxiety when they are alone.
Excessive yawning is another way your dog tries to tell you something is stressing them out. Yawning could also be a way for your dog to calm themselves when they’re overly excited. For example, when their favorite human comes home, they may yawn to control their excitement.
A classic example of a dog trying to calm themselves is when they shake their entire body – similar to what they do after a bath. The shake-off is not only a behavior that happens when a dog is wet; it’s also a natural way for your dog to self-soothe or discharge a stressful interaction. It can occur when a harness or collar is removed. If your dog finds walking outside to be a stressful experience, they will likely shake off once inside your home.
We hope you’ve gained some insights into how to interpret our fur baby’s body language. Don’t forget context is essential when deciphering what your dog is trying to say. Is your dog displaying behavior that you’re unsure how to interpret? Contact us and let us know about it! We can help you decode what your dog is trying to say in any situation so you can strengthen your communication with them.