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Canine Body Language

The key to interpreting Canine Body Language

Canine body language is similar to Canine Communication, dogs use communication to convey different emotions of happy, sad, nervous, fearful and angry using their faces and bodies.

Canine body language is no different from any other animal but is an elaborate and sophisticated communication, unfortunately we as the human tend to not recognize and interpret it the right way.

You can better understand his or hers feelings and motivations at any given time. If we interpret Canine body language correctly, we can then better predict what is likely to happen in that moment. Giving you a better understanding and a greater enjoyment when interacting with your dog.

Dogs use facial expressions, ear set, tail carriage and overall way of being to signal their feelings and intentions others. Watching their body their body language is helpful to building your observation and interpretation skills. However you need to be able to observe the entire dog and the situation at the same time to gain a true understanding. It’s not possible to understand your dog’s intentions by just looking at the one aspect of his or her body language. The face is a great place to start, even though they come in different shapes and sizes, the dog’s basic facial expressions can tell you a great deal about how he’s feeling. Along with the eyes your dog can change the shape and size of their eyes or the direction and intensity of their stare. When relaxed the eyes are their normal shape. When the eyes appear larger than normal this may be an indication that your dog is feeling threatened in some way. If the eyes seem smaller than they usually then this could indicate a feeling of being frightened or stressed.

Intense directional stares from your dog are a direct indication that their feelings and intentions have changed in some way. Dogs will rarely look directly into each other’s eyes as this can be threatening. Most domestic dogs however through training have learned that it’s okay to look directly into the humans eyes. When a dog looks directly into your eyes you need to look for the relaxed face, if they are looking at you with a very tense, agitated facial expression then you need to immediately divert your eyes away from theirs as not to seem threatening. Some dogs that are feeling threatened don’t look directly eye contact, they look at you with corners of their eyes, this could be an indication they are leading up to an aggressive outburst towards you or others. However again you have to look at the whole situation because if a dog is resting and opens his eyes they may give you a sideways glance. It may look the same but in this case, they won’t appear rigid or tense and the eye contact does not last long before your dog looks away indicating relaxed state.

The ears are a very prominent indicator, when your dog is relaxed and comfortable, they will hold the ears relaxed. When alert, the ears rise higher on the head, normally directing them toward the point of interest. A dog will also raise his ears bolt up and forward if the intention is to be aggressive towards something. Ears pulled back slightly, signals the intention to be friendly and ears are completely flattened or stuck out to the sides of his head signals that fear or a feeling of submissiveness. Normally while looking at the ears you will notice the hair on their back changes, although dogs don’t communicate much with it, the raising of the hackles can be a good indicator. Although dogs this is not always a signal of aggressive intentions. The hair is most often raised over the withers and could be signalling alert state. Raised hackles can mean that a dog is afraid, angry, insecure, unsure, nervous or excited about something like a human having goose bumps.

Finally the tail, so many people get this communication wrong by often assuming that a wagging tail is a friendly communication. This is so far away from the truth in is scary. A dog will wag its tail for number or reasons, including when their intention is to be aggressive. Most dogs have a tail that hangs down naturally (depending on breed and K.C breed standard). With docked breeds or genetically influenced breeds with unnatural tail positioning this form of communication can be difficult to read. However with a natural tail it is a strong, primary indicator. When relaxed as dog will hold their tail in its natural position, normally straight down with a little kick out at the end. If happy the wagging it gently from side to side, if over excited the tail will wag faster and more than likely move in a circular pattern. Nervous or submissive dogs will hold the tail low and even tuck it between their legs; at this point you could still have a wag from the tail. Extremely nervous or fearful dogs will hold the tail tucked up tight against their belly. Be aware of this difference between the submissive tail and the extremely nervous tail as pushed the actions of the dog could be somewhat different.
Now to me this is the most important this to look for which is when a dog is alert or aroused about something, they will hold the tail higher than normal. It is normally held stiff, without any movement. A dog that is just standing ground will flag his tail, which means he holds it stiff and high and moves it slowly back and forth. This is where people get it so wrong because this might look like your dog is wagging his tail, but if you look at everything else the body language tells you that this is not going to be friendly meeting or encounter.

So there you go dogs communicate their intentions through body language and energy. However with every facial expression, movement of the eyes, the ears and the tail there is also an overall body movement or posture. Dogs will either try to look normal, larger than normal or small. A dog that is happy in a certain situation holds a normal posture, a dog that is a little nervous or fearful normally tries to get smaller, they will almost grouch down as though to look smaller. Lowering their body or even cower on the ground, the head will be held low as well. A submissive type dog will look very similar to a nervous, fearful dog. However the head will be normally raised as if to greet a person or another animal.

The opposite end of the scale is the assertive dog that is alert or aroused. He will make larger, standing very tall with his neck and head raised above his shoulders. This should not be confused with the aggressive dog though, he also makes himself appear larger but this is to simply intimidate. Although the aggressive dog’s looks similar to an assertive dog his overall posture will be accompanied by aggressive threats like lunging or charging forward. After reading this article you can now watch for the small indicators in your dogs, learn their language and gain a better understand and communicated with them which will in the end equal a better relationship with them.