Understand and Interpret Dog’s Behaviour

Dogs have only a few ways to let us know what they are feeling, one being dog communication with body language.

By understanding these actions, it will enable us to interpret dog behavior and know when something is wrong with your dog, or they are happy and carefree.

Most devoted dog owners can immediately tell what their dogs are feeling by different body language signals.

Dogs have similar and repetitious signals that are generally easy for someone who understands their dog, and in turn this will then help understand if you are meeting a friendly dog on the street, or in a dog park, or a potential enemy.

If you are not sure of what a dog is saying check out these few different examples that I have learned from my dogs, Lady and Lola.

These are just generalities, but will help in beginning to undertstand your dogs body language.  I would like to thank Lola for demonstrating a few of the different catergories below.

Also Champ, our neighbors dog.  Believe it or not, they were both paid extemely well, – in homemade organic treats – for being soooooo good.

Happy, Friendly Tail Wagging Dog

Lola and Champ in a Friendly Dog Greeting.

This is Lola and our neighbor dog Champ. Champ strolls over for a visit on a regular basis. This is at my front door. Their tails are not straight up and stiff in an aggressive manner.

Although they have know each other for years, they go through this same dance each and every time they meet.

circling and sniffing, saying howdy.

The tail will make wide sweeps or almost a circle movement, with the tail hanging down or slightly up and curled, and not held straight up and wagging stiffly.

The ears are relaxed and fur will be smooth down the spine and shoulders. A happy dog doesn’t make eye contact, but will sniff and check things out in a relaxed and easy manner.

If it is another dog they will do the typical dog greeting of sniffing each other, nose to nose, then nose to butt, circling each other in an easy manner.

If this is a strange dog, ask the owner if it is okay to pet their dog after the sniffing routine is finished, then offer the back of your hand to smell first before petting.

I usually just stand with my fist turned towards the unknown dog at this point, staying fairly still with my arm hanging down at snout level. I allow the dog to approach me rather than sticking my fist out towards him. So far I haven’t had a problem with misinterpreting this action as aggressive.

A Tail Wagging Dog that is Showing Aggression:

aggressive dog stance 

If you meet another dog while out with yours, or even if you are just out alone don’t assume he is friendly because his tail is wagging.

Although the strange dog is not growling, showing its teeth and snapping at you, he can be dangerous.

If his tail is stiff and held high, wagging slowly,  and the ears seem alert, and he stares directly into your or your dog’s eyes, then you are encountering a hostile dog.

The hackles are raised, ( the fur down the spine and around the shoulders ).

  This is their way of making themselves look as big and intimidating as possible.

   To prevent attack you should avoid eye contact, and try to quietly remove yourself and your dog quickly, without running of course.

A Submissive Dog

Lola relaxed on back

Usually a dog that lies on it’s back, exposing it’s belly is showing submission, not cowardice.

This way the dog gives you the power of pack leader and he can relax and enjoy his life of belly scratches, walks, getting a regular meal and playing.

These dogs aren’t looking for a fight, and are usually laid back and relaxed pets. This type of personality makes a good family member.

As long as there are no other symptoms to go along with this behavior that would indicate the dog shows obsessive behavior along with this submissive body language, or is so timid that is hides all the time and is truly a “scaredy dog”.

There are always many variables within each type of body language that will give further clues as to what is relaxed submissive, fear submission. I had a sweet, sweet beagle named Susie that was so submissive and afraid of everything that it took over one year just for her to trust me enough to approach me.

She stayed mostly under the bed and I was always hunting around the house for her.

She had been abused when I got her at the age of 6 months. It took a lot of quiet patience and work but she turned into a wonderful pet and she was with me for 10 years before she died of cancer.

Obviously these few examples above of “dog body language” are just that – a few. This behavior is genetically passed on from wild ancestors. Learning to read the different variations within your dog’s actions makes living together a very fun and rewarding endeavor.

A Happy Playful Dog

Let's Play!

This is my favorite way for Lady or Lola to show me their “mood”.

It is quite recognizable, even to non dog owners. Your dog bows down and rests on the chest and front elbows, with the butt swinging happily up in the air.

Sometimes after a short display of this, they get up, bark, run in circles, do a quick roll around, and return to the position. I can never resist this request.

This is when your dog is most at ease in his/her environment.

Lola also uses this pose when playing with our cats, which is always good for a laugh. The cats don't see this as playful, and Lola is usually the loser. She is so naive and innocent and always tries this over and over with repetitively same hilarious results.

A Very Unhappy Fearful Dog

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The whole body will be lowered, and tucking the tail to cover it’s scent will be a good indication that your dog is afraid of something.

The ears are usually laid back and tight against his head, and the fur is raised along the back and shoulders.

If a dog is afraid, then they may bite, but out of fear, not aggression.

This is a dog you want to retreat from quietly and quickly.