Become a dog communication expert

It’s not difficult to tell if your dog is really happy – that waggy tail and soppy smile is such a giveaway. However, there are lots of other, more subtle signs that reveal how your four-legged pal is feeling and what they’re trying to tell you. I’m not really a hugger While many humans love a cuddle, lots of dogs
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1st April 2020

It’s not difficult to tell if your dog is really happy – that waggy tail and soppy smile is such a giveaway. However, there are lots of other, more subtle signs that reveal how your four-legged pal is feeling and what they’re trying to tell you.

I’m not really a hugger

While many humans love a cuddle, lots of dogs are not a fan of the full-on hug. To them, it can feel rather restricting as they’re not able to move away into their own personal safe space. If your dog doesn’t like being hugged, they’ll turn their head away from you and flatten their ears against their head. They may also lick their lips and look around nervously. Some gentle stroking may be a better way to show you love them.

Please don’t pat me on the head

When stroking a dog, the worst thing you can do is go straight for their head. After all, how would you feel if someone suddenly reached out and tried to touch your face and pat you on the head? It would feel quite intimidating – and it’s exactly the same for your dog. It’s much better to get down to their level, offer your hand and let them come to you. Stroke their side, back or chest rather than their head. If they relax, they might enjoy a scratch behind the ears. To tell if they’re enjoying it, stop for a moment and, if they push their head back under your hand to ask for more fuss, you’ll know they’re loving the attention.

Don’t stare into my eyes

Staring lovingly into your dog’s eyes is not appreciated in the canine world where fixed eye contact is considered a threat or a challenge. When humans do this to their dogs, it’s probably rather confusing to them. Far better to bow down to doggy etiquette and avoid prolonged direct eye contact. 

Just because I’m a dog, doesn’t mean I like every other dog I meet

While dogs are naturally social animals, they’re all individuals and, just like us, have their personal likes and dislikes. There will always be dogs (and people) that your canine chum won’t really like spending time with. To show how they feel, some dogs might bark or growl. Other signs to look out for include a tail that stops wagging, your pet tries to take themselves off, or there's a lot of lip-licking, yawning and looking nervously back at you. These are all signals that your pet wants to get away from the dog or person in question.

Dog conversations – what’s going on?

It takes two (or more dogs) to have a ‘conversation’, but what are they saying to each other? Look at both dogs’ body language. You’ll see one dog respond to the other, back and forth. A relaxed interaction involves a lot of ‘give and take’ body conversation, with friendly, familiar dogs taking turns to advance, retreat, offer play signals such as front paws pouncing and side to side prancing. 

An undesirable interaction is one to learn and look out for. Dogs that rush in a straight line towards others can be seen as confrontational and they may not engage in gentle interaction. Any kind of force – such as one dog pinning the other one down without allowing the other dog to escape, and chasing without taking turns, are examples of a one-sided conversation from a dog that is simply not listening to the other. This situation is likely not to go well. 

Source: Dogs Trust

Read my body language...

I’m really happy

A high, waggy tail is the most well-known sign your dog is feeling good, but there are other signs to look out for:

  • Floppy ears that are not tense or flattened against their head.
  • A relaxed body that is not tense or stiff, with loose shoulders, soft eyes without a fixed gaze.
  • Play bows with front legs straight forward, bottom raised and tail wagging is your dog’s way of saying they’re in the mood to play. 
  • They lean in to you and into your hand when you stroke them.

I’m not happy

Your dog will really appreciate your support when they’re telling you they’re worried:

  • Low or tucked tail or low or slow wags can indicate fear or insecurity. 
  • A tense body with the head held low avoiding eye contact shows they are worried. If your dog goes very still, like a statue, that usually means they’re getting really uncomfortable.
  • Ears pinned back and flat against their head shows they are stressed or anxious.
  • They turn away from you. If your dog is unhappy with something you or someone else is doing, they’ll try to turn their head away from you. Some dogs might give you a quick lick on your hand or face before doing this if you’re paying close attention to them, as a signal that they’re done with close quarters for now.
  • Appeasement behaviour. Your dog might roll over onto their back but stay stiff and still once there rather than doing it in a relaxed way. This means they’re worried and trying to let you know they aren’t out to hurt you. They may also lick their lips. repeatedly or ‘yawn’. These are all signs they feel uncomfortable with the situation and are trying to give you low-key signals they want it to stop.
  • Hiding and walking away. If your dog is unhappy at something or someone making them stressed, they may try to hide behind you or another object or take themselves off to another area if they can. Let them do this and don’t follow them or push the interaction, as your dog is letting you know they need a time-out.

Source: PDSA

If you found this interesting, you may also like:

DOG BEHAVING BADLY?  Sometimes, dogs being dogs is just too much for their human owners to handle. That’s why we need to help our canine companions to learn when we’re happy for them to do certain things, and when we’re not  

DOG DOMINANCE? WHY IT'S TIME TO DITCH THIS OUTDATED IDEA  Our relationships with our pet dogs should be about developing a unique human/canine partnership where we both learn from each other, rather than trying to establish who’s boss

THE VALUE OF REWARD-BASED TRAINING Focusing on and rewarding what your dog can do, rather than what they can’t, makes training a much more positive experience for canines and humans alike

TAILOR YOUR TRAINING TO YOUR DOG'S PERSONALITY  When it comes to teaching your dog new stuff, it’s never a case of one size fits all. Canine behaviour experts agree that tailoring your approach by understanding the way your dog learns is key to success

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