Many dog owners proudly refer to their dog as ‘a member of the family’, but what many people forget is that their dog is not human. Dog owners can forget that their pet is an animal, and have that animal instinct embedded in their DNA. Dogs can be natural hunters, yet also very sociable animals. This combination can confuse their owners as to why dogs do different things and why they react in certain ways. Being able to recognise the features of their body language may help to strengthen your relationship with your dog. This will give you a better understanding of what your dog may be feeling, and give you a better idea of how to react. Here are a few things to look out for…

• Tail. Dogs use their tails much more than just wagging them when they’re happy or excited. By knowing how dogs position their tails in relation to their emotions can be extremely useful to a dog owner. The most obvious use of a dog’s tail is to denote happiness. When a dog is wagging their tail quite highly and vigorously, it generally means that the dog is comfortable, yet excited. However, some dogs may wag their tail in this fashion when they are about to become aggressive. The difference will probably evident when you consider the rest of the dog’s body language. When a dog lowers his tail and wags it, it usually means that the dog is anxious. A confident dog will have his tail still and straight. When it is positioned like this, it means that your dog is comfortable with its surroundings. This will depend on the breed of dog and what type of tail they have, but after some observation, you should be able to tell what different tail positioning means with your dog. If your dog’s tail circles like a propeller, this usually means that the dog is being sociable and friendly.

• Ears. A dog’s ears can be as telling as their tails. When a dog is feeling comfortable his ears will be in a relaxed and his ears will probably be like this for the majority of the time. When your dog raises his ears, it usually means that he is aroused by something. This is usually when the dog is concentrating or learning something new, or when something interesting grabs his attention. When a dog’s ears are stretched back to the back of his head, this is when you need to be careful. This usually denotes aggression or anxiety, and you will most likely see this when your dog is confronted by another dog, or if he comes across something which he is not sure of. This can also be a submissive gesture; a friendly gesture to show his sociable side.

• Body. When a dog is confident, his posture will be upright and relaxed, showing that he is comfortable in his environment. When a dog feels threatened or overly anxious, you will be able to tell a big difference in his posture. His body is likely to lower to the floor (a dog’s way of being submissive). His back may arch and his body may bend slightly, his way of backing down from any anticipated attack.

All of these body language examples are general and body language will differ from breed to breed, and dog to dog. It is important to note that the advice given in this article is general, as your dog’s behaviour can change very rapidly. If you take time out to observe your dog’s body language in different environments and situations you will eventually become familiar with your dog’s personality. However, knowing about your dog’s body language doesn’t mean you understand everything about your dog’s behaviour. If you are having trouble with your dog’s behaviour, and are struggling to understand why your dog reacts to certain things, it may be worth seeing a behavioural specialist solve some of these issues. Private dog training could be what you and your dog need to understand each other as much as possible, which will no doubt improve your relationship.

About Terry Hayes

Tery Hayes, CPDT-KA (Licensed Professional Dog Fitness Instructor) is the author of many books, writes articles for different magazines and also papers including Modern Dog Publication, and has also organized the Dog Talk radio program. He is the board memeber of the Companion Animal Sciences, a certified distance college that supplies certification training courses and also diploma programs of research in professional dog training, behavior consulting, physical fitness as well as nutritional sciences.