Dogs "speak" to other dogs and to their owners primarily by using body language. Understanding what your puppy/dog is "saying" to you is important, and learning it can be fun because you will be able to "talk" back to him using his own language. :-)
It is sad how much many owners miss in the companionship and understanding of their dog. Owners may may be too unimaginative, too sentimental, too lacking in patience - but oh - how much they miss!
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What a wonderful indicator of a dog's emotion is the tail. The position and motion of the tail can tell you SO much about how your dog is feeling.
Forward (up over the back and pointing toward the head) and rigid - could be very angry, attack mode (in this stance, usually the ears are up and forward also)
High and stationary - extreme excitement
High and a full wag - a happy dog, certain of impending happiness
Halfway and stationary - uncertainty, hoping for good, but also preparing for bad.
Halfway and wagging - pleasant anticipation, hopeful but not quite sure.
Halfway and only the tip is wagging - he is not sure if you will be happy - but he hopes so.
Low and stationary - unhappy or wary and waiting to see
Low and wagging - very, very timid; hopeful, but not sure at all; possibly anticipating rejection or impending unhappiness.
Hanging down limply - a stance of tiredness, misery or complete boredom.
Tucked between legs - frightened or in pain. The female will also tuck her tail to protect herself from amorous males when she is not in season.
Tucked up tightly to tummy - extremely frightened/traumatized or in extreme pain.
Bear in mind that the tail is not the sole indicator of a dog's emotions. The position of the head and ears, the look in the eyes usually have corresponding indicators; though once in a while you will see a contradiction - a dog that is growling (and not a play growl) with a wagging tail; and in cases such as that, always proceed cautiously.
You know what is a real turn-off for me? People who totally ignore dogs who look at them (or approach them) with wagging tails. A wagging tail means "Hi there! I'm happy to see you!"; the same as a smile, greeting and handshake from one human to another human. It's very rude to ignore a greeting - I don't care who it's from - 2-legged or 4-legged.
I'll never forget a moment about 20 years ago when I was outside raking leaves and a family across the street were having an outside birthday party for kids. A small dog was wandering down the street, saw the people and tried to approach the father, the dog was obviously timid but was wagging his tail. (The little dog looked healthy, well fed and it's long hair was well groomed, he didn't act like a stray, but was timid probably from being out on his own for the first time.)
The man noticed the dog and at once shouted, stomped his foot and raised his hand threateningly. The poor, poor little dog shot back down the street. (I tried to find the little dog, but couldn't. I believe it belonged to a family in the neighborhood and had probably just gotten out; hopefully it found it's way back home.)
Can you imagine? If that man had done the same to a child who was walking down the street and approached him in the same manner - shy but wanting to be friendly; anyone would be outraged at the man's behavior. And yet people do it to dogs all the time.
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Submission grin - an "I'm so humble" or "oops, I got caught" expression
Smiling - can indicate "I'm so humble" or an acknowledgment of your attention.
"happy face grin" or "laugh face" - with a wide, open mouth (usually accompanied by a furiously wagging tail); an expression of pure happiness, sometimes used by a very happy dog to invite play.
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Ears (even well set ones with good cartilage) are limp, held slightly back and down - extreme "humble ears" which are often demonstrated during times when the dog is relaxed and being "loved over."
Ears alert and forward - extreme excitement, can also (with other indicators) indicate aggression (see Tail, Vocalizations)
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You can see what a dog is feeling by looking into his eyes, just as he will know what you are feeling by looking into yours.
Among wolves and wild dogs, direct eye contact is a threat. Only the alpha animal may use it. This he (or she) does, often. In the wild, eye contact is used to keep the pack in line. It maintains order, it helps avoid conflict, it is a speedy, silent reminder of who's who. It is an important means of communication, though by no means the only one.
In the tame world, between owner and dog, eye contact has a less rigid definition. Dogs learn that eye contact can be loving and gentle. They learn that they can read a variety of messages via the eye, instructions, feelings, cues of all kinds. And they see, of course, that the old ways can still hold true, that the message "alpha" still comes from the eyes.
Your dog is always reading messages from your eyes, whether or not you are consciously sending them. When your lips say "No" and your eyes say "Yes" - well, you know that routine.
Extremely timid and abused dogs will frequently not sustain eye contact. If a dog will not give you his eyes, work with him patiently and let him know that he can indeed make loving eye contact with you. Praise him when he does. Eventually, those furtive glances will become long, loving stares.
On the other hand, a very dominant dog may not give you his eyes. He knows full well that to give his eyes to your more dominant ones would be to give in. Sure, he might obey commands, but if he does them without looking at you then he is not acknowledging that you are the boss.
Use eye contact to warn. The more you use it, the more your dog gets in the habit of looking to you, rather than at you. He looks to you for direction. Give it to him. When he is about to do something bad, warn him with eye contact - no, not the loving tender kind; the kind that whistles as it cuts the air. If you need to, make a sound to get him to look at you.
Use eye contact to direct. I am going left, or right. The ball is there. The cookie is there. You'll faint when you see how well a dog can read these signals.
Use eye contact to praise. Send your warmth, approval and your love, eye to eye. It works. And it wouldn't break your face to add a smile. Dogs read those, too.
When it comes to understanding your dog and communicating your wishes with him, the eyes have it. Be a model to your dog, as his natural mother was. The top dog behaves with dignity, surety, confidence, authority, and intelligence. He or she is in charge, comfortably. Comfort is contagious. Remember - your dog is watching you.
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When either stretching after a nap or expressing friendly sociability, the dog will assume an elongated position, forelegs on the ground, rump in the air. This stretch position is one of the chief ways your dog invites play. Almost all dogs use and can read this posture, even if it is done awkwardly by a human being.
Pawing is a submissive, friendly gesture, also used as an invitation to communicate or play. Paw back - and while you're there, tell him "Shake" and you've got an instant trick.
Stamping of Front Feet
When dogs are looking you (or another dog) right in the eye, and stamp their front feet together on the ground - that is saying, "Hey, I want to play with you!" If you get down on the floor and "stamp back" with your hands on the floor - he will be ecstatic...lololol Sometimes you can just bend over and "stamp" your hands on your thighs in response, and he will understand.
Skipping on Alternating Back Legs
When a dog (or cat) is very upbeat, carefree and happy you will often see him do a little "skip" with a back leg when he is trotting. That is more common in long-legged terriers, but I've also seen Dachshunds do it.
Crazy Runs with Widely Splayed Back Legs
That is an expression of pure exuberance. The dog or puppy is soooo happy that he just can't contain himself.
Your dog pants to cool his body (because he does not sweat through his skin as people do) and to express his friendliness. If you pant back at him, he will either respond in kind or he will translate. That is, he'll either pant back, or he'll play bow, paw at you, wag his tail. Body postures, like English, have synonyms.
Note that dogs also pant to express pain. I guess it has always tickled me when women tell me that "panting during childbirth was learned from observing dogs." Dogs do not have any magical way of coping with childbirth - the dogs pant because it HURTS.
Dogs do not have "hands" - and use their mouth for many actions that we use our hands for. Mobbing - the "soft mouthing" that a puppy does on your hand is one way that puppies express affection and play. It is one reason it is soooo important for young puppies to play with siblings and their mother and learn that biting too hard with those sharp little teeth has consequences.
Submissive posturings can be ears back, tail tucked, foreleg or hind leg up, a roll over onto the back, neck and tummy exposed, tip of tail is wagged, or the dog urinating. Sometimes if a larger or older dog wants to encourage a puppy to play, he will roll over into a submissive posture which gives the puppy the courage to play with him. Reasonable submissive postures are good to see after a correction- it means the dog understands you are upset. If you see this posturing at other times - he needs a lot of reassurance and petting.
The expression "Don't get your back up," should let you know that raised hackles means anger (although it can also mean extreme excitement). If you see a dog with everything going out and forward - hackles raised, ears forward, tail high up, up on his toes - that's an angry (or incredibly excited) dog. Fear is expressed by a pulling in - ears back, tail tucked, rounded back (tummy tucked). Mixed messages - ears back, hackles up - could mean a shy, sharp dog or fear biter. This dog, the one expressing ambivalence, is less predictable and can be more dangerous than the aggressive dog.
The T Position
The more dominant of two dogs will form a T by leaning on the submissive dog's back (or neck) with his muzzle or even his paw.
Although babies puppies mount in play, adult dogs use mounting for mating and also as a display of dominance. A dog wishing to vote himself alpha will mount another dog of either sex as an act of self-assertion.
A dog coming forward to you, wide open mouth, ears down and back, tail at full wag from side to side.
A dog getting in front of you, obviously trying to get your attention; looking up at you, ears down, leaning away from you and raising a foreleg. The tail might or might not be wagging.
Apprehension or Uncertainty
Although this position also frequently uses a raised foreleg, unlike Soliciting (above) the dog will NOT be trying to get your attention. He will also not be "cowering" (see Submission). He will pull back and raise a foreleg if he sees you looking at him and is experiencing apprehension or uncertainty...whether for misconduct, prior mistreatment, or expressing timidness in a new situation, around strangers, or in a strange environment, etc. The tail will not be wagging, or up, it will be stationary and either low or tucked.
A dog crouching, sitting or lying down, mouth closed, ears very far back and limp.
A dog bracing on front legs, leaning back, tail down, ears down, mouth open showing teeth.
There are other body positions which can indicate ill heath, such as the typical "not feeling well" puppy position of lying on the chest with the back legs to one side and the head also to a side.
A dog or puppy with a tummy ache or abdominal problem will frequently only use a curled position when laying down - not usually a stretched out position.
A dog with a heart or lung problem will commonly lay with his head braced upward against a wall or object, and a puppy with megaoesphagus will sometimes also.
A dog or puppy who sleeps in a relaxed stretched out position or upside down is very comfortable.
Body Language will tell you so much about your dog and how he is feeling. It's worthwhile to learn it.
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Sometimes you may find yourself in a tight spot with a dog. You may be unsure if the dog is friendly or unfriendly. You can use the below to avoid an attack. You can also use the below (as well as other items on this page) to make friends with the dog.
There is no one simple answer or set formula to avoid a dog's attack, and if you do stick to one, you could end up in trouble. Each dog is different, but all dogs tend to conform to certain predictable rules of behavior, and knowing them can help you avoid trouble. The below are especially important for children to learn.
Never, never, never run toward a strange dog; he may interpret it as an attack and react defensively or aggressively.
Never stare at a dog. If he does not know you it may interpret staring as a threat or challenge and attack you.
Never run past a strange dog or run or walk quickly away from it. Your flight may release his chase response and you may get bitten. Always walk slowly, even backward, facing him, if you feel he may chase you.
Try to hide your fear - a dog can read fear in your eyes and body movement. Play it cool; whistle, walk slowly, and pretend he's not there.
Remember that even friendly dogs will bark at you. Talk to him and smile and if he wags his tail and doesn't snarl or put the hair up on his back, stand still and call him to you. He may want to make friends. If he approaches in a friendly way, stand still so he can sniff you. That's good manners. Let him sniff your hand.
Do not give him treats or milk bones. Occasionally a dog may be on a strict diet for his own good and you could make him ill. Also, unfortunately many dogs are not taught how to take things gently which are handed to them, and might inadvertently nip the hand while grabbing for the treat.
As you are walking slowly toward a strange dog, observe how he reacts to you as you draw closer. If he is on his own territory, he will probably bark at you. As you get closer, he may bark more. If he walks or runs toward you with his tail wagging in the low or medium position, even if he is barking, he is probably friendly and not likely to bite. But if he stiffens up, holds his tail high, and stares at you, doesn't relax when you say, "Hi, boy (or girl);" if he is snarling and showing his teeth and has his hackles and tail up, it may be safest to go no closer.
Remember - don't turn and run; back away slowly, keeping him in your sight at all time. Don't forget, most delivery people and passersby get bitten as they are leaving or moving away from the dog's territory. Turning your back and walking away may be read as weakness or submission by the dog and so he may then chase and bite you.
[As a side note, a housedog who accepts and is quiet when guests are visiting, but runs after them as they are leaving is a spoiled, bratty dog. And if the owners don't want to be faced with a lawsuit because of nipping - they had better get their act together and start being more responsible owners.]
With a dog who seems like he's after you - snarling, staring at you, walking stiffly or in a slinky way with the hair up along his back - stand your ground. Call out to the owners.
If his actions get worse, say in a very firm tone, "No - down. Go home."
This may be sufficient bluff. Never lean back. Any backward movement will disclose your fear. Keep your body weight forward so that if he jumps at you, you will be ready. Most importantly, if you feel an attack is imminent - don't move. Maintain a body position and attitude as though you are alpha.
Many times that is enough to make the dog think twice and either back down or just stand there and not attack.
If he is just standing there, you are going to have to wait until the owner or another human comes along to help you out, either by calling him off, or distracting him.
Dogs rarely attack, so don't start worrying and acting scared around any dog you meet. Don't believe all the dog attack stories the media is so fond of relating - most of them leave out the part about the dogs being horribly provoked into attacking.
And did you know statistics show that in any given year - more children are killed by their own parents than killed by dogs?
Most dogs are like you and me. They are scared about getting into a fight but they like to act tough sometimes, especially on their own turf (or what they consider theirs).
Don't ignore dogs you may meet - they may be suspicious of you then. Say "Hi, boy" or "Hi, girl." "How are you today?" If you act friendly and confident, he won't be scared and will have less reason to challenge you. Many dogs will respond to your greeting by wagging their tails and sometimes even grinning at you. Others will play it cool and ignore you, so don't be pushy and over-friendly.
If you meet an obnoxious dog regularly when you are out; if he threatens you or your beloved pet, find out where he lives and call the owners and ask them to control him. If they don't, you have every right to lodge a formal complaint with the police.
Remember, dogs can tell if you like them and a kind word is better insurance than a stick, pepper spray or other dog repellent. Don't feel bad if you like dogs and they all seem to bark at you. They are just doing their job.
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Another reason for learning and using "Body Language" is that most owners use far too little range of voice tones. One needs low tones for commands given in a clear, firm voice; higher exuberant tones for praise when the dog has done well; a hard "no nonsense" tone for wrongdoing with deliberate disobedience.
As you add knowledge of Body Language to sound, you will be able to interpret the variety of utterances your dog makes. His voice can express a range of feelings - sadness, boredom, joy, anger, friendliness, pain, a call to gather, a kind of "ahem" to get your attention, loneliness, exuberance.
It is a common error to imagine that a barking dog is threatening you. He may be making a loud noise that appears to be aimed directly at you, but this is misleading. For the bark is a canine "alert call" and is meant for other members of the pack, including the human pack to which he belongs.
Out-and-out attack is, by contrast, completely silent. The fearlessly aggressive dog simply rushes straight at you and bites. Demonstrations of police dogs attacking men pretending to be fleeing criminals confirm this.
Snarling, with the lips retracted to display the canine teeth, is typical of a dog who could be aggressive if provoked.
The well-known saying that "his bark is worse than his bite" is based on a canine truth. For the dog that barks is not usually brave enough to bite, and the dog that bites does not usually bother to bark.
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Fritz and Lewy's new parents are sending fantastic photos of the boys in their new home. They have a beautiful 12-year-old girl named Molly. Look at the below photos and notice the body language of Molly and the puppies.
The boys have just arrived in their new home, late afternoon on a Monday. Fritz is busy chasing a ball, but look at Kim, Molly and Lewy. Molly is being introduced to the puppies for the first time. Kim is on the floor and has her loving hand directly on Molly, and is speaking to her and praising her.
Notice Lewy's submissive posture - rump touching the floor, hind legs spread out a bit, head a bit low and tilted to the side - his nose is pointed downward and to the side - NOT directly at Molly. This is the absolute correct posture of a respectful puppy being introduced to a new adult dog. He is saying to Molly, "I'm new and timid, but I'd really like to be friends. I hope you won't hurt me."
Molly is standing and sniffing Lewy, and her body language is neutral.
Now notice this picture. Lewy is still being extremely respectful, though in a more relaxed manner. His rump is still on the ground, but his back legs are not spread. His head is raised close to Molly's in a greeting manner with his nose close to hers - BUT his ears are limp and back....what I call "humble ears." Lewy's body language is saying "I like you and respect you, and I think you might like me, can we be friends?"
Molly's position is one of benevolent dominance. She is allowing the puppy's nose to almost touch hers, which is a courtesy. She also is NOT displaying "aggressive dominance" - pulling her lips back, or standing with her head over him in a "T" position (towering right over him). However, she is standing tall, and acknowledging Lewy's body behavior. She is saying, "I acknowledge you and I'm not threatening you, but I am older and I was here first. We might become friends."
The above pictures were taken the day the boys were first brought home on Monday. The below picture is from the next day, Tuesday morning:
The boys had just finished breakfast and playing and were taking their first morning nap. They are both extremely relaxed in Molly's presence and comfortable enough not to be constantly submitting to her.
Molly is relaxing comfortably only a short distance from the boys, and is obviously keeping an eye on them. Molly chose the short distance, she wants to be fairly near them, and her relaxed laying position indicates that she is extremely comfortable in their presence. She is beginning to take on the role of "big sister." :-)
The below picture was taken on Wednesday:
Molly is solicitously checking on sleeping Fritz. She is beginning to warm to her new role of "big sister." :-)
Having puppies in the house was a BIG adjustment for Molly (the 12-year-old) and Luke (the cat), but, just like humans, they find puppies fascinating. From the beginning they would sit "in the stands watching the boys race around the field" their Mom told me. She said it was a riot watching Molly and Luke turning their heads in unison watching Fritz and Lewy racing around. She said she should have named the puppies "Mario Andretti and Dale Earnhardt."
A couple days later, another milestone. Molly feels so comfortable with the puppies that she is approaching them while they are vigorously playing together. It's an ideal situation, actually, for an older dog; because a single puppy would likely be pestering her to play. Intent on playing with each other, the puppies are not focusing on Molly.
The next milestone has happened! Molly became more and more interested in the boys' play and one day went up to them as they were wrestling and did a play-bow - asking to join in. Of course they accepted! And "the rest was history," as they say. Although Molly, at 12 years of age cannot run like the boys, her Mom reports that when she is playing with them, she has a "great big smile on her face."
Above, Molly and the twins playing with their beloved Dad. Notice how Fritz has stood up right over Molly's back - and she's wagging her tail, fully acknowledging that he is playing with her.
Above, Molly is 12 and can't race around like the puppies, but she is getting right down on the floor to wrestle with them.
Above Molly is rolling over - which is another typical "play posture" adult dogs use to encourage puppies to play with them.
In the above picture, Molly has her paws wrapped around little Fritz as they play-wrestle on the floor; Lewy is right next to them, ready to join in the fun - and Molly says, "Okay, Lewy - you're next!"
Above, take a look a Molly - THAT is a "happy face" - a wide-open, bright-eyed smile of happiness. Her Mom writes: "Molly has been playing and having lots of fun with them and they with her. They are so respectful of her. When they step out of line she’ll correct them. All in all I am so pleased with how that is going."
Molly has now fully accepted her "little brothers" and allows them to snuggle next to her. To be asleep is to be vulnerable - especially when you are older. Would YOU be comfortable sleeping right next to a stranger? Pretty much the highest "level of acceptance" I look for is the family dog sleeping right next to the new sibling - allowing the puppy's body to be in physical contact.
Molly's parents are overjoyed to see their precious little girl having so much fun - and I am, too. It is one of the most memorable moments of a puppy owner's life - seeing their beloved family dog playing so happily with the new sibling/s.
BRAVO! to Fritz and Lewy's parents for the superb way they introduced the boys to Molly, ensuring a relaxed transition for both!
The boys have never seen cats before and so far seem only a little bit interested in Luke. Luke is keeping his distance for now, but will likely gradually come closer to the boys. The boys do NOT know how to read the body language of cats...which is very different than the body language of dogs. In fact, young puppies barking at a cat who is NOT telling them "Bug off!" in dog body language, might assume that the cat doesn't mind what they are doing. The cat might very well be telling them to "Bug off!" in cat body language - but that is something that puppies do not understand yet, and have to learn.
Think of it as an English-speaking child banging on a book that a non-English-speaking person is reading. The English child will not understand the repeated verbal "don't do that" in another language. And will likely keep banging the book until the non-English person gets really angry - using a vocal tone or physical smack which makes his feelings obvious to the surprised youngster.
Much appreciation to Kim and Steve for allowing me to use their photos of Fritz and Lewy, Molly and Luke.
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