Do you own a dog? If the answer is yes, you must have at least once hoped that you can understand what their thoughts for a little bit, especially when they are sick and you just can't figure out what is wrong. Such communication surely would have helped to remove quite a lot of the guesswork that comes with the ownership of a canine. For example, I'm quite sure that you and your dog have come across another dog at one point in your life. I'm willing to bet that many of you guys tried to pull your dog's leash closer when a stranger pup approached or when yours approached another dog. You might think that it is the right answer, but trust me, it is not.
What does a dog say?
The belief that dogs don't talk to you is partly a myth. They surely don't have the ability to form words and ask you about your favorite TV shows' plots. However, that does not mean that they are completely muted and incapable of telling you about what's happening in their world.
Dogs are able to communicate physically, such as producing sounds from their vocal cords or use specific behaviors and movements. Thus, we may be able to pick up that our dogs are trying to tell us something, but there is no clue as to what they are trying to say. This can lead to us dog owners feeling frustrated, especially when the dogs are not doing what we want them to do.
Now, if you think about it, this frustration usually sterns from an assumption that dogs communicate the same way we humans do, but that is not the case. No matter how friendly and submissive dogs have become over the millennia, dogs are beasts, thus they will communicate the way all beasts do. While us humans usually communicate through experience and emotions, dogs communicate primarily on an instinctual level, which is rooted in the ancient time when they roam the earth as wild beasts. Thus, the first thing we must observe is their posture.
The ultimate relaxing posture, one which your dog will use only when he is completely sure that he is in his territory or someplace that is safe. His weight will balance flat on all of his four legs. His head is usually held high, which is a sign of him being quite unconcerned about practically any and everything. When he has this stance, it often means he is okay with being approached. Some other signs include his ears being up (unless they are naturally floppy) but not forward; his tail should be hanging loose or wagging widely. In most case, the dog should be panting and you can practically see most of his back teeth.
One of the most popular trademarks of a happy dog is the play bow: the pup will raise his butt in the air, lower his head near the floor. When they are doing this posture, the pups are inviting others to play with him. Other possible signs include a raised and wagging tail, ears up, mouth open and panting.
He may be smelling the barbeque party being held at your neighbor's house, or hearing the bark of another dog someplace away. Nevertheless, your dog is investigating his surroundings to know if there is any danger lurking. His body is often stiffer with his muscles tensing, and he will push his weight forward on his front paws. In some cases, his tails may move slightly from one side to another. In addition, his ears will be forward, either rotating or twitching to catch the sound. In most case, his mouth is closed and tense.
There are quite a lot of types of aggression behavior for a dog, in fact, there are so many that I don't think we can discuss all of them in this post. However, there are usually two main "umbrella" terms that dog behaviorists use: offensive and defensive aggression.
Offensive aggression usually consists of a tall and stiff posture, raised hackles and a high-raised tail. The dog's ears will be pricked forward and, in some cases, they may angle away from each other in a "V" shape. His mouth and nose will likely be wrinkled with curled lips and bared teeth. These behavior attempts are believed to make the dog appears larger and consequently more intimidating.
So, how about the opposite side? When a dog perceives something as a threat, when he feels protective, or when he is fearful, he will adapt his defensive aggression. Usually, when a dog is in defensive aggression mode, he keeps his body low to the ground with his tail hanging down, his ears flatten, and in some cases, he avoids eye contact.
Stressed out Posture
This is one of the most important mental states of a dog that any dog owner should know of, as unlike the other postures, this usually means that there is something wrong with your dog. Stress may stern from the inside of his body or it can be from outside sources like social and environmental stress. Some of the more apparent signs of your dog being under stress are: he may be low with flat ears and his tail pointing down, there can be some rapid panting or lip licking. In addition, he can yawn, move in slow motion, or pace.
This is usually observed in the case of having another dog interacting with your dog, like in a dog park. The less confident dog will lower his body to the ground, flatten his ears, and raise a paw in the air as if he wants to shake hands. He may also give little tail wags and try to lick the more confident dog.
In another case, the less confident one can roll over on his back, exposing his tummy, tucking his tail, squinting, and flattening his ears.
The importance of the tail
When you guess your pup's intention by observing his posture, there is one important part that you must always pay special attention to; his tail. There are some misunderstanding of a wagging tail equals a happy pup, but that is only applicable in certain cases.
A pup wagging his tail can usually be an indication of him being happy and generally safe to approach, but everything is relative. There is an indication beyond the wagging movement that you must know of: the tail's position.
Some of the mentioned postures may have a completely different meaning if the tail's position is different. If your pup is really having a blast, the tail may dart back and forth quickly and strongly, if he is happy and relaxed, the tail will wag side-to-side, but there will be a constant: the tail will be at neither high nor low position. Similarly, if his tail is raised, it is a sign of him being on guard and prepared to confront whatever danger there may be. If his tail arches over the back, there is a high chance of your pup going for an act of aggression.
In some way, learning your dog's body language is like learning a whole new language. Even though some of these body signs can be quite easy to pick up, there are other subtle nuances that will need time to learn. Thus, it is important that you are patient and willing to communicate with your pup on his level.