Best Friend Body Language
Most pet parents are familiar with these common dog behaviors a flick of the tail, flattened ears, loud barking. As with pet owners, pets have a number of ways to express themselves; the trouble, experts say, is that we don’t always know how to understand them. From the angle of the ears to how fast the tail is wagging, read below and find out what your pet is trying to tell you:
Below are some of the most common body language signals and what they mean.
Growl: Warning, disgust
Barking: One bark is a call-out (hey!). Multiple barks in rapid succession is alarm, or an effort to rally the social group to investigate something it finds interesting or threatening. Barking beginning with a yodel or howl – excited alert, an alarm.
Moan: Intense pleasure or contentment
Whine: Begging, or I want. Sounds that start low and end high also are begging, asking. Sounds that start high and end low: Unhappiness, complaint.
Multiple Even-Pitch Grumbles: (wa, wa, wa, wa) Wanting, asking, frustration or discontent
Multiple High-Pitch Grumbles/whines-combo: Defending, complaining.
High-Pitched Barking: Play or frustration
Yawn (volcalized): Excitement or frustration.
Turning away of the head: Calming signal. Peaceful intentions. Avoiding potential conflict. Prevents making direct eye contact (which many dogs consider a threatening behavior).
Lip licking: Peaceful intentions. Calming signal. Calms members of a social group, eases tension in a group or personal stress, may precede a bite in fearful dog, or precede presenting the belly.
Yawning: Calming signal. Stress reducer of personal stress levels or stress levels in a social group. Commonly observed at vet’s office, groomer, before walks (excitement).
Shaking: (Looks exactly like dog is shaking off water after a bath.) Stress reliever. May see this after your dog has a scary or very exciting experience.
Tail positions: Elevated – confident. Over back: extreme confidence or dominance. Down – relaxed, submissive. Between legs – fearful. Wagging with entire body/hips – happiness. Wagging without body – stress, interest, aggression, excitement, dog is thinking. Hooked tail pointed downward – excitement (commonly observed in Foxhounds, Basset Hounds, some Beagles.
Piloerection (raised hackles): Feels threatened. Over-stimulated. Excited.
Shivering: Fear, tension, over-stimulated. When mammals, including man, are confronted with a stressful event, their core body temperature rises, stress-induced hyperthermia (Department of Psychopharmacology, Utrecht Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Utrecht University, Sorbonnelaan 16, The Netherlands. email@example.com. Eur J Pharmacol. 2003 Feb 28;463(1-3):117-32.
Kissing of the Mouth: (Dog licking the mouth of dog, human) Puppy behavior, peaceful intentions, submissive behavior. One of the most common reasons dogs jump during greeting rituals.
Blinking: Calming signal, peaceful intentions, sleepiness.
Paw lift: Weight distribution toward the front of body – peaceful intentions, begging. Weight distribution toward the rear of the body – fearful, distrustful, unsure.
Smile: Relaxed jaw muscles, tongue exposed. No visible creases on face, forehead.
Closed Mouth: Precedes bite, to gain better scent, convey seriousness, thinking.
Open Mouth: Relaxed.
Grimace: (Often called fear grimace, but also seen in excited dogs) Tense jaw muscles. Mouth pulled at corners back exposing molars or all teeth. Visible creases at corners of mouth, forehead – fear, tension, excitement. Looks like an exaggerated or forced smile.
Whale Eye: White of eyes visible, dilated pupils. Fear, aggression.
Averted Gaze: Peaceful intentions, polite behavior, fearful.
Staring: At an object – claiming, intent to claim. At another dog – challenge. At a human – challenge, begging
Presenting The Belly: Laying squarely on back with floppy paws over center of chest – submission, trust. On side, lifting one hind leg or one front paw (or both) – fear, apprehension, fearful submission, uncertainty. Urinating while doing either excitement or fear (submissive urination). This is a puppy behavior that some adult dogs will engage in when over-excited or fearful. It’s a way to convey puppy-like intentions and that it isn’t a threat.
Sneeze: during enjoyable activity – laughter. (When sniffing pepper, a sneeze).
Breathing: Through stomach – relaxed. Through chest – excited.
Panting: Cools body down, excitement, fear.
Scraping Earth With Paws After Elimination: Insecurity, marking both visually for other dogs to see and with sweat glands on its paws.
Sweaty Paws: Dog is overheated, fearful, stressed. Often observed in the crates of dogs that have fears of confinement.
Sniffing Ground: Calming signal. Peaceful intentions, stress reliever.
Freezing: Contemplating fight or flight, warning. Point of reactivity threshold.
Drooling: Presence of food – hunger. Stressful situations – fear. Often precedes vomiting.
For more information on reading dog body language here are some informative books of the subject:
- Dog Language: An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior, by Roger Abrantes
- On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas
- How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication, by Stanley Coren
- For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, by Dr. Patricia McConnell
Karen Fazio, is a professional dog trainer and owner of My Best Friend Dog Training LLC and The Dog Super Nanny, located in Keyport, NJ. She is the co-host of Philadelphia’s live radio show, “Thursday in the Doghouse,” on WNJC1360, contributing writer for The Star-Ledger’s Inside Jersey Magazine and member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers; The Association of Animal Behavior Professionals and active Supporter/Friend of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. She specializes in chronic behavioral issues such as fear, aggression, obsessive disorders, and behaviors related to medical issues. For more information visit her site, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more articles like this, as well as information and updates in pet training and pet industry, subscribe to her newsletter by clicking here
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