Once you have mastered the basics of understanding dog body language, it’s time to apply this vital knowledge to your own furry family member. Just as speaking a new language with a native speaker can be a bit of a revelation, you may discover that it is not quite as simple to ‘read’ your dog, as it is to understand canine behavior from pictures.
First off, dogs communicate their emotions extremely quickly – in fact, the event may happen so fast that you miss it! Just as native speakers of a foreign language appear to be speaking very quickly until you get used to their language, it will likely take time and practice to ‘catch’ some of your dog’s more subtle signals.
Complicating matters further, not all dogs are built the same! It may sound perfectly obvious, but a docked (cut off – ugh!) tail puts a human at a distinct disadvantage when trying to assess the temperament of a strange dog from a distance! This is where context becomes vital. It is essential to avoid relying on just one part of a dog’s anatomy when reading his body language. In other words, if the dog with a docked tail is approaching you – be sure to evaluate the whole package!
It’s not only dogs with docked tails that can cause humans to get in a muddle when trying to communicate with their dog. The enormous number of dog breeds has resulted in tremendous variety. For example, dog tails come in many different shapes and styles – ranging from none at all to tightly curled and held close above the body. Some dogs have thin wispy tails whereas others are so fluffy, it can be challenging to make out what the dog is communicating. Paralyzed dogs may have tails that hang down low regardless of their emotional state.
Knowing your own dog is therefore extremely important to avoid simple misunderstandings. Since each dog has a unique physical comportment – learn to identify her overall body language when happy and relaxed, or anxious and stressed. Look for obvious pointers first. Is the body language loose and relaxed or tense and fixed? How does she usually look when happy and playful? Your dog will still provide all the usual clues regardless of breed, but it is up to her human to identify her particular message – especially if your fur baby is a fluffball! Simply being able to recognize how your dog carries her tail when laid-back and calm will give you a baseline for more urgent calls such as when your dog is anxious or excited.
Similar to the tail, your dog’s ears will also differ depending upon his breed. Some dogs have ears that are trained to be erect whereas others have long floppy ears that always hang down (think basset hound). Some dogs have funky ears that flip inside out! Others have experienced horrendous cruelty and had their ears trimmed off in a misguided attempt to make them look fierce.
Even if your dog is one that has erect ears such as the rat terrier pictured on the left, you will still notice tremendous variation in the way the ears are carried. Dogs have a dozen different muscles to position their ears for catching sound and communicating how they feel. Unlike our stationary ears (alright some of us can wiggle our ears!) dogs are capable of moving their ears up and down, pitching them forward and backward, and rotating their ears. As you can imagine, there is a lot of communication that takes place via your dog’s ears!
It is said that the eyes are windows to the soul, and this is certainly true of our canine family members!
When a dog really wants something – like your dinner – she will frequently offer up a long, unblinking, stare. Most humans find this ‘look’ very hard to resist, and the dog quickly learns that her persuasion is richly rewarded!
Even the way your pooch positions his head is noteworthy. A common behavior trait exhibited by dogs is the head tilt. This is a sign that your dog is interested in something. Additional body language clues will give away whether the dog is becoming aroused or is merely curious.
Our wonderful dogs are richly communicative, and definitely not ‘dumb’ animals! Once humans learn to unlock the key to understanding what their furry family member is telling them, they are in a much better place to be able to truly respond with sensitivity and care. Best of all, regardless of whether your dog comes from the Middle East, North America, Asia, or India – they all speak the same language! We owe it to our pets to learn to speak dog!
For more information on LALDR’s adoptive dogs (and the occasional cat!) please visit our website.
Anne P. (Administrator)