Though dogs may understand some human words, body language is their main form of communication. Not only is it how they tell you what they’re feeling, it is also the best way to communicate with them.
Here are some signs your dog may give you and how you can respond:
Dogs may sweat through their paws when they are stressed. They may rapidly pant and lower the back end of their bodies with their tails down.
Calming signals: Dogs perform these actions as a way to calm themselves and others, but you can also imitate these actions to put a stressed dog at ease: yawn, look away, move slowly, appear to become distracted by something, sit. Dogs may also lick their lips or nose and lie down.
One paw raised: This is a sign that your dog is not quite at ease and is worried. It’s a cute posture, but it shows the dog does not want to be petted or disturbed, says the Pet Professional Guild.
Half-moon eye: This worried expression is a sign to leave the dog alone.
Big shake: The shaking action a dog makes to dry off after being in the water is similar to the action it may perform after tension or stress. It shakes as if to say “Whew, glad that’s over,” according to behavior specialist Stacy Braslau’s website.
The wagging tail is an obvious sign, but some other more subtle signs can let you know your dog is content, including panting or lying down with one paw tucked under its body.
Fearful and Aggressive
Be able to determine how aggressive a dog is could help prevent dog attacks.
Some signs a dog is feeling fearful and aggressive are that its hackles will be raised (tufts of fur on the back—one near the nape of the neck, the other near the tail), its nose wrinkled, lips curled, tail lowered, and front bowed with ears back.
Dominant aggressive: Aggressive dogs looking to assert their dominance show some signs slightly different from those of fearful dogs. Rather than a lowered tail, the dog’s tail will be raised, the ears forward, the body leaned forward and the legs stiffened.
When something has caught a dog’s attention, it will often stand with eyes wide open, mouth closed, ears forward to pick up sound, tail horizontal, and leaning slightly forward.
Extreme Fear, Total Submission
A dog looking to diffuse an extreme threat and show complete submission in a fearful state will lie on its back with its neck and belly exposed, its head turned to avoid eye contact, and its ears flat back. It may also urinate a little, according to Modern Dog magazine.
Body Language Tip for Disciplining
Sharon Maguire of the Dog Breed Info Center gives an example of an owner’s reaction to her dog’s inappropriate behavior. She picked the dog up and patted it on the bottom, telling it “That was a bad boy, don’t do that anymore. … I want you to be a good dog, you hear me?”
The affectionate body language reinforced the behavior instead of punishing it. Maguire said a better reaction would have been to lean over without picking the dog up, say “No,” and poke the dog in the neck if it made a move to repeat the behavior. Poking the dog simulates a bite.
*Image of woman and dog via Shutterstock.