As a dog sitter in Gilbert, we spend a lot of time with different breeds of dogs, breeds of all sizes and shapes. And breed characteristics aside, it’s important to be able to read the unspoken signals of interaction and body language when we approach a dog, or between dogs, whether those are dogs in the same household, or if another dog approaches yours on a dog walk. Can you understand the language your dogs speak?
Dogs give many signals to us; we just need to be able to figure out the non-verbal cues they send. Here are some of the major ways dogs speak to us. (Click on picture to see a larger version – blog post continues below it.)
Eyes: If a dog is trying to show submissiveness or avoid a confrontation, they will often look away. It’s considered rude for one dog to stare directly into a dog’s eyes. So if your dog is looking away from you, they may be feeling submissive or anxious. Also, a dog will show what is called a whale eye where a lot of the white of its eye is showing. This is the sign of an anxious, possibly agitated dog trying to de-escalate a situation or a dog who is hyper alert to what is going on around it . You see this a lot when a dog has a bone and another dog comes near his precious resource.
Tails: If a dog is feeling content and social they hold their tails at a 45 degree angle or high and wagging quickly. However, if they’re feeling threatened or nervous, they will curl their tails under their body, hold it high and rigid not moving, or in line with their spine, again rigidly. Some people misread a low, slowly wagging tail as meaning they can approach a dog, but this can also be a sign that a dog is feeling somewhat anxious or stressed. This of course will be dependent on the situation and other factors and signals going on.
Ears: When a dog’s ears are back or against their head this means they are anxious or in a somewhat fearful position. Ears held straight up and possibly rigid signal an alert dog. If a dog is content its ears will be soft and relaxed.
Body: Dogs may raise their hackles, which is the fur on their back from their neck by the shoulder blades down their back, signaling an aroused state and possible fearful reaction. They may also lift their paw while in a sitting position signaling high anxiety. If they stop and freeze and hold their body rigidly, they’re feeling threatened and use this as a signal to try to de-escalate a situation.
If a dog continues to feel anxious or stressed, these behaviors may escalate and lead to what we determine to be ‘aggressive’ such as growling or biting. However, the dog has attempted to send us numerous signals that they are not comfortable in the situation. It’s crucial we learn to be able to read them. A good dog sitter will have an understanding of what these signals are.
See this link for excellent examples of real dogs showing some of these signs we’ve discussed.
Thanks to Sharon Witherspoon of www.homedogtrainingaz.com for providing the inspiration for this blog post.