As we age, we learn to pick up cues from our friends, family members and acquaintances that give us an indication of how they’re feeling. For example, if your friend’s head is held low and her shoulders are hunched down, it is likely safe to assume she’s just not a happy camper; perhaps she’s sad or not feeling well. As humans we have the benefit of vocalizing our feelings, too, so determining how someone is feeling doesn’t have to rely solely on body cues. Unfortunately, we just don’t have that luxury with our canine companions; unlike humans, dogs rely solely on their body language to get their message across. Unfortunately, many pet parents simply aren’t proficient in understanding their pooch’s body signs, which can lead to confusion and misunderstanding, and may even weaken their bond.
Every parent wants to understand their child; even children of the furry persuasion. Here’s a little help when it comes to knowing what your canine mime is trying to say:
Front body lowered, ears up, mouth open, eyes wide, tail wagging up high. This is a classic invitation to play! It’s your dog’s way of saying “I’m friendly; let’s play!” You’ve likely noticed your pooch assume this position just before he runs toward you or in a random direction, displaying his eagerness to engage in some playtime. This happy mood may also be highlighted with random barking and playful jumps.
Head held high, eyes focused, ears pointing upright. This stance indicates the dog is trying to pay close attention to what he is seeing, smelling or hearing. He may be doing this to detect a possible threat to himself or his family, or just to focus all of his attention on something that peaks his interest. When you speak to your dog, do you notice his ears point up and his head tilts a bit? This is his attempt to hear you and understand you better, and to search for familiar words like “walk” and “treat.”
Head held high, ears pointed sharply upright, lip curl that reveals teeth. This is your dog’s way of saying “Back off!” This warning can be especially serious when combined with direct and intense eye contact, which means he is sensing a threat to himself or his family.
Eyes wide, nose wrinkled, hair along the back raised, tail tucked between back legs. If your dog displays this posture, he is frightened and feels like he is greatly threatened or he is anxious. Don’t mistake this stance with one of submission, as he is ready to attack despite his fear. If you notice the corners of his mouth pull back slightly, he is ready to bark and bite for protection.
Lowered body that is slightly leaned back, lowered tail that may wag slightly, quick glances, ears pulled back. This is your pooch’s way of saying “I surrender” when approached by a dominant individual or animal. His stance shows he is trying to appease and avoid possible confrontation, and his body is leaned back to allow him to make a quick retreat, if necessary.
Surely there are various cues your canine companion has shared with you that help you understand his feelings and needs. Think of those cues as his form of sign language; since he can’t communicate with you verbally, he relies on his signs to inform you, and he relies on you to understand what he has to say. Pay attention and respond appropriately, and you’re sure to have an everlasting bond that you both understand, even without words.