Body Talk: Reading Your Dog’s Mood Through Body Language
Since we all know we (unfortunately) can’t talk to dogs, it’s important to try to communicate with them in other ways. Dogs are visual and empathetic creatures and can be highly attuned to the signals and energy expressed by humans, especially ones they know well. In the same way, they can read us, we can read them through body positions and facial expressions. It can be very useful to understand what a dog is trying to communicate to you, both for your own security and safety and that of the dog.
Generally, it’s best to approach dogs, whether you are familiar with them or not, in a submissive and non-threatening way. It is often best to avoid making direct and prolonged eye contact, as many dogs will perceive this as a challenge. Offering your hand for the dog to sniff is a good way to determine whether a dog is comfortable with being approached or touched. If the dog does not seem welcoming with this gesture, it is probably best to back off and give the dog space. A relaxed, approachable dog might be postured with ears pointing upwards, tail down and in an untensed position, with a loose stance and his mouth open with his tongue exposed. A dog that is alert and a little on the initial defensive might be holding his tail horizontal to his body, mouth closed, ears pointed towards you, leaning forward slightly or standing upright on his toes. In this scenario, it’s vital to allow the dog to sniff you and approach on his own terms while he scopes out the situation.
A dog that definitely does not want to be approached or touched is one that is positioned in a stiff-legged stance and/or snarls or snaps. Aggressive signals such as these, as well as dilated pupils, wrinkled nose, tail raised and bristled, ears forward, and hair stiffened and standing up on his back, are a clear cue to back out of a dog’s space. A fearful dog will often pin his ears flat on his head and lower his body to the floor, tucking his tail in between his legs. Sometimes dogs will even sweat when they are nervous and afraid, and try to lick your face and make eye contact to show that they are not aggressive towards you. Often, dogs will assume submissive postures when they are nervous, lying on their backs and exposing their stomachs. This gesture is the most extreme way for a dog to show submission or trust, depending on the situation.
A dog who is playful and non-aggressive will often raise his back end in the air and lower his front half to the floor, often sticking his tail straight up and wagging it. If your dog goes into this position, it probably means he wants to run and play.
Since we can’t talk to dogs (yet), it’s so important to make sure we find other ways to communicate with them so that we can have safe and healthy relationships with our canine friends. There are simple ways to determine how a dog is feeling just by looking at him, so always be attentive to the cues your dog is giving, from nose to tail.