Many people will tell you that they wished their dog could talk. Your dog can in fact talk to you, he just doesn’t speak English. Learn to understand his language, and you’ll know what he’s trying to tell you.
Although dogs do communicate using their voice, you can learn more about how they’re feeling by watching their body language. To be more specific, look at their mouth, eyes, ears, posture and tail. Body language is important in allowing dogs to communicate with other dogs; pups who are removed from their litter mates too early don’t learn these communication skills and can have trouble relating to other members of their own species.
You’ve probably seen your dog with an open mouth, loose tongue and the hint of a smile on his lips. He’s telling you he’s pretty relaxed, and life is good. Compare this to a closed mouth and tense lips, which indicates he’s alert and watchful. You can’t misinterpret the message if your dog bares his teeth and curls his lip: back off!
You may be interested to know that if your dog yawns, it doesn’t mean he’s ready for a nap. It means he’s stressed, and feeling quite anxious. If your dog yawns often, have a look at his environment and see if you can find the source of his stress. Perhaps the neighbor’s children are scaring him, or your new dog is bullying him. If you can recognize this and remedy the situation, he’ll be a lot happier.
Let’s move on to his ears. Whether your dog has erect ears or floppy pendulous ears, the position of the cartilage at the base of his ears is important. An alert, interested dog will hold his ear cartilage forward. If it’s held back against his head, he’s frightened and defensive. This can be another indication that a dog may bite.
Your dog’s gaze can tell you how he relates to you and to other dogs. If he’s dominant and assertive, he’ll stare directly at you. If he diverts his eyes, it indicates he’s submissive. Your dog may be dominant over a dog and stare directly at him, yet avoid gazing at another dog because he is submissive to that animal. Like people, a wide eyed look can indicate your dog is scared.
Body posture can also tell you how your dog is feeling. A dog who rolls on his back is submissive, symbolically baring his throat to his superior. An assertive dog will stand stiff and straight legged. There’s nothing quite as delightful as the play-bow – your dog will lie on his elbows with his back legs straight and his rump in the air and slowly wag his tail. He’s inviting you to play, and would love it if you started a game of chase with him.
A wagging tail is a dog’s way of smiling and saying hello. A slow wag is “Hi!”. An enthusiastic wag shows he really likes you and is very pleased to see you. A fearful or submissive dog will hold his tail tightly between his legs, whereas a confident dog will hold his tail erect. Dogs with docked tails are less able to communicate their feelings than their undocked counterparts.
Taking all these indicators into consideration will give you a good idea of how a dog is likely to behave. For example, a dog with it’s tail held down between its legs, ear cartilage back and wide open eyes is likely to be feeling frightened. These dogs may defend themselves by biting if they feel threatened. On the other hand, an open mouth, lolling tongue, erect ear cartilages and a wagging tail suggest that a dog is feeling comfortable and is interested in meeting you.
It’s not difficult to learn to understand what your dog is telling you. Practice recognizing his signals and you’ll be able to reduce his stress, improve his quality of life, and have a much better relationship with him.