Dogs can’t speak to us in words, but canine posture is amazingly consistent from one dog to the next. Those non-verbal cues are as eloquent as any spoken language, and learning to understand them will help you to interact with your dog and other dogs in more meaningful ways.
Knowing how to read your dog’s body language is the key to understanding your dog, assessing her attitude, and predicting her next move. Because dogs are non-verbal – their body language does the talking for them.
Your dog can, within limits, vary the shape and size of her eyes or the direction and intensity of her gaze. When your dog is relaxed and happy, her eyes will be their normal shape.
A curled upper lip, which exposes her fearsome-looking teeth, is generally a sign of a very agitated dog ready to snap or bite. Bared teeth are usually accompanied by a low growl. A happy dog is relaxed and her mouth is closed or slightly open, or she may be panting.
If your dog is happy, she will usually be wagging her tail. But a wagging tail does not always mean she’s in a good mood; it can also signal aggression, which is why it should be read in context with other body signals.
When your dog is relaxed and comfortable, she’ll hold her ears naturally. When she’s alert, she’ll raise them higher on her head and she’ll direct them toward whatever’s holding her interest. Your dog will also raise her ears up and forward when she’s feeling aggressive. If your dog has her ears pulled back slightly, she’s signaling her intention to be friendly. If her ears are completely flattened or stuck out to the sides of her head, she’s signaling that she’s frightened or feeling submissive.
All dogs have hackles that run down their back from the base of the neck to their tail. A dog’s hackles can be raised for a number of reasons in just a matter of seconds. Fear, excitement, interest, aggression, nervousness, insecurity, startled or aroused feelings can cause a dog’s hair to bristle. Sounds, scents or direct encounters with other dogs and stressful situations can put the dog on guard but to really understand what’s going on with the dog, you need to observe her entire body language.
Watch your dog’s overall posture. If she wants to play, she may bow, dipping her front legs into a crouch. If she’s happy, her muscles are loose and relaxed; if she’s scared, she may hunch her back in an effort to look small or may cower low to the ground.
A dog’s body language is not only referring to the posture in which it is standing at any given moment, but encompasses the position of a dog’s ears, eyes, tails, and even hair as indicators. It is imperative to base our understanding of a dog’s body language on all of the indicators that are present.