Although they can't talk, dogs have an expressive body that can communicate their emotions and thoughts just as well. Understanding these is vital for keeping dogs or working alongside them. An alert owner can recognize how their dog feels and what they need. Here's a closer look at some common dog body language
A dog that feels comfortable will generally be approachable and happy to interact with people. The dog will be in a relaxed stance with their weight distributed evenly as they stand on the flats of their feet. They'll hold their head high, and their ears may be upright as well. The mouth is often slightly open in this situation, and they may be panting or have their tongue out. The dog's tail will hang low, or it may be wagging. It is important to note that a wagging tail does not always indicate a good mood. But if the tail seems loose and looks like it's in tune with the rest of the body, the dog is probably comfortable and in a good mood.
A playful dog is a happy dog. A dog will signal their playfulness with upright ears, bright eyes, and a rapidly wagging tail. Often they will also have an open mouth and exposed tongue. Sometimes dogs adopt what is called the play bow. In a play bow, a dog will bend or stretch their front legs out while keeping their rear end upright, possibly wiggling it a bit. They'll often only hold that pose briefly before setting off on a run. They will also very often run around in small circles or jump up and down. The dog may also bark excitedly at the prospect of play.
A dog asserting their dominance over people as well as other dogs will stand in a tall and confident posture. They may raise their hackles, and the tail will be raised and bristly. Their ears will be in an alert position as they make direct eye contact with their target.
Be aware that asserting dominance in this manner is more than just a signal - it is showing a willingness to back up their feelings with action. This can lead to a fight. If directed at a human, that person should avoid eye contact with the dog and carefully leave their presence. If this type of behavior is ongoing, it may be a good idea to discuss it with a vet or trainer.
A dog that feels anxiety will show it through very strong body language. They will pin back their ears, hold their body in a low posture, and hold their tail low or between their legs. The corners of the mouth may be pulled back and they may pant rapidly. If they make eye contact at all, it will be indirect and very brief. It will probably not be possible to detect at the time, but they may sweat through their paw pads. The dog may whine or growl, tremble, or even urinate. This body language is telling others that the dog feels scared or overwhelmed.
The best way to ease an anxious dog is to get them into a situation where they feel safe. Often this means putting them somewhere where they can be alone. A stressed dog may act unpredictably, so it is important to give them the space they need to calm themselves down. If possible, it's best to leave the dog where it is, but guiding the dog to somewhere else is also acceptable if it can be done safely. Keep interactions of all kinds minimal. Do not punish the dog, but also do not try to comfort them. Simply give them the space they need.
Outright aggression is dangerous and must be responded to quickly. This body language is similar to that of the dog asserting dominance, but even more extreme. The dog will plant their feet squarely and firmly on the ground. Their ears will be pulled back and the head will be facing straight forward with a strong, piercing gaze. The dog will bare its teeth and may snap at the air, bark, and growl.
It is very important to know that the tail may be wagging despite the aggression. Aggressive tail wagging is distinct from comfortable and playful wagging. In this case, the tail will be stiff along its length and held upright. The wagging will be a stiff and rapid motion in comparison to the relaxed swishing seen in a happy dog.
If a dog is showing this behavior, retreat from it in a calm and slow manner. Do not attempt to engage with the dog. Remember that a dog can cause significant and even fatal harm. Often times, leaving the dog's vicinity is enough to defuse the situation. Having the dog see a behavior therapist, trainer, or vet is highly recommended.
A dog who has grown scared enough to become aggressive will take the signs of an anxious dog to the extreme. It is distinct from dominant aggression in that the dog's body language will be more subdued in an effort to seem unthreatening. This means that they will avoid eye contact. The tail will be firmly between the legs, and they will lower themselves towards the ground. They may pull back their lips and show their teeth.
The procedure for dealing with a dog in this state of mind is much the same as the dominant-aggressive dog. Do not touch the dog, as their heightened state of fear can lead to them biting in order to defend themselves. Calmly, and without running or making eye contact, leave the dog's vicinity. It is a good idea to consult a specialist in dog behavior after such an incident. These trainers can help come up with solutions to remove the source of the dog's fear or help the dog grow less fearful. Always remember that the dog's behavior here is a reaction to their surroundings, so do not punish them.
Remember, dog communication is a two-way street. As a dog and owner come to understand each other, they can create an environment that is comfortable and safe. And the reward - a happy, healthy canine companion - is always worth it.