Dogs are expressive animals but it isn’t always easy to figure out what they’re trying to tell us.
Sure we know a lot of the general kinds of body language but there are times when something is up with your pup and you just can’t figure it out.
It’s also important to make sure that you don’t misread your dog’s signals.
As a veterinarian, I have to first read a dog’s body language to better understand how to approach them and ultimately treat them.
When reading a dog’s body language, it’s important to take into account their entire body instead of focusing on just one body part.
For example, a wagging tail doesn’t always mean your dog is happy.
Keep reading for helpful tips on how to decipher what your dog is feeling, and how it can help you maintain better wellness for your dog.
How An Alert Dog Acts
An alert dog is looking at their surroundings to gather information.
When your dog is assessing their surroundings, you can expect to see their ears perked up and pointed forward.
Their eyes will be wide and focused with a neutral relaxed forehead.
Their mouth will be closed with a little tension at the lips.
Their tail will be extended away from the body and possibly wagging.
In all, your dog’s body posture will be evenly distributed between their four paws as they display a “ready” position and determines their next steps.
How A Happy Dog Acts
A happy dog generally has a loose waggy posture and in many ways can appear relaxed.
Looking at your dog’s ears, they should be in their natural position.
Pointed ears will stand straight while floppy ears will hang slightly forward.
A happy dog usually has soft eyes and a relaxed forehead, with no wrinkles or furrows.
Your dog’s mouth will either be closed and relaxed (no tension) at the lips or open in a relaxed pant.
Your dog will have a wide sweeping tail wag in line with their spine or, if they’re playing, their tail will wag slightly higher.
Think of those times when your dog has been so happy that it seems like their tail is wagging the entire lower half of his body and you know what a happy wag looks like.
Overall, a happy dog has a soft and wiggly posture with some over exaggerated movements, especially if they’re in the middle of playing.
How A Submissive Dog Acts
A submissive dog generally tries to make their body appear smaller so that they look like less of a threat.
A submissive dog might even lower their body to the ground or lay down and expose their belly to show they aren’t threatening.
When examining your dog, notice if their ears are pinned back and they avoid eye contact.
These are both signs that your dog is being submissive.
They will also have tension around their mouth, sometimes exposing their teeth as if they’re trying to smile.
This is your dog’s way of showing deference.
They might also lick their muzzle frequently and keep their tail tucked down or in a low wag.
Some submissive dogs even raise a front paw as a way of showing appeasement.
Overall a submissive dog will move slowly and keep their weight to the back part of their body, again as a way to appear less threatening.
How An Aggressive Dog Acts
An aggressive dog will carry their body in a way that allows them to react immediately.
In this situation a dog’s ears won’t tell the full story.
You will have to look at their ears along with the rest of their body language to figure out what kind of aggression they’re displaying.
For example, a fearful dog will hold their ears back and against their head.
An assertive dog will prick their ears forward or to the side.
An aggressive dog will also keep their eye on whatever is bothering them with a hard, steady stare.
There will often be wrinkles across their forehead as they focus on what’s going on around them.
Looking at your dog’s mouth, their lips will be tense and in some cases may be pulled back, exposing the upper teeth in a bit of a snarl pose.
A fearful dog may keep their tail tucked between their legs before an act of aggression as well, but raise it while they’re being aggressive.
A confident dog may hold their tail high and keep it moving in a tight wag.
One of the easiest signs of aggression to recognize is that your dog’s “hackles” might be up.
This is the area of fur that appears to raise itself up across the shoulders and at the base of the spine near the tail.
Overall, an aggressive dog will have a tense body with a stiff-legged “ready” stance as they prepare to react to their environment.
How An Anxious Dog Acts
An anxious dog will exhibit a lot of the same postures as a nervous dog but will also perform a serious of “calming behaviours” which are behaviours meant to self-soothe or reduce escalating tension.
Some of the most common calming behaviours are:
- Slow movements
- Lip licking
- Lip smacking
- Sniffing the ground
- Raising one paw
- Looking away
- Turning away
- Moving in a circle
- Slow movements
- Shaking off (the way your dog does when wet)
A distressed dog will often avoid eye contact or look at their trigger only to look away again quickly.
You may also notice that your dog is stressed if they’re grooming excessively, scratching, excessive yawning, sneezing, or licking their lips.
How An Afraid Dog Acts
A dog who is feeling afraid will often have a stiff posture and hunch over so that their face is closer to the ground.
If your dog is feeling afraid, their ears will be tucked back against the head and might turn his head away from the stressor while moving his eyes to look at it.
This causes the whites of their eyes to show in what is known as “whale eyes.”
Your dog’s mouth might also be tightly closed with the corners of the mouth pulled back, and they may begin panting for no apparent reason.
And a telltale sign that your dog is afraid is that their tail will be tucked between their legs, going down under their belly, distributing their weight so that they’re shifted back and away from potential dangers.
A fearful dog may shed more easily and their overall posture will be stiff and low to the ground.
Book An Appointment At Bickford Park Animal Hospital
If you’re concerned about your dog’s behaviour, book an appointment with us at Bickford Park Animal Hospital.
Your dog’s behaviour can be an indication of a lot more than just their mood.
If they’re acting strange, we can help.
Book an appointment with us today.
Bickford Park Animal Hospital is a veterinary clinic in Toronto, located across from Christie Pits park, committed to the highest level of caring and treatment for cats and dogs.