Learning how to read dog body language is not as easy as you think.
Dogs are always communicating. They don’t speak our language, they speak dog. A dog’s first language is body language and energy. They have very elaborate ways of expressing how they’re feeling. They can tell us when they’re angry, afraid, anxious, curious, happy and much more, by using every part of their body to convey their emotional state of being.
In the image below, you may think that this is a sweet exchange. But look again. When a dog looks away, they are signaling that they are uncomfortable with what’s happening. Notice in the image from the Dog Decoder app, showing you the body parts that are talking. These are all signs of discomfort.
Reading dog body language can be confusing because it’s a very sophisticated and complex system of non-verbal communication but thankfully we can learn how to read and interpret what they’re trying so hard to tell us.
In the image below, you’ll see a lot of body parts talking. They happen so fast, if you don’t know how to read them, you may miss them. This image was drawn from a real life situation. Kyle Dyer the news anchor in Denver, CO was doing a good samaritan show about a fireman rescuing a dog from a frozen pond. The dog was rescued only the day before, and was still traumatized. Add this trauma to being in a TV studio with strangers petting you, lights blaring and you have a dog who is over his threshold of tolerance and now he’s on camera in between his owners legs while Kyle Dyer is petting him having no idea that the dog was not liking it one bit and about to bite. She was bitten in the face, taking part of her lip off, just a few seconds after the dog looked away and she had to run off the set and was taken to the hospital. See the image below.
Dogs use their ears, eyes, tail, body posture, body orientation, facial tension and body tension in various ways signaling their intentions and feelings to other dogs and to us.
In order to interpret dog body language, we must look at the entire body, not just one part. For example, a wagging tail doesn’t necessarily mean a happy dog. If the tail is straight up, stiff and wagging fast and short, this is most likely a dog who feels threatened and may bite. A low horizontal tail wag, is one of joy. In this way, we can put all the parts together to determine what a dog is telling us. Context is as important as reading all the body parts talking. When you look at the parts talking you must also look at what’s happening while the dog is expressing herself.
By learning to talk dog, we will go far in keeping our families safe from injury. Did you know that 77% of dog bites are from friends and family dogs and the only reason for this is lack of understanding when a dog is not feeling comfortable in any given situation and lack of proper supervision.
Some other subtle signs to be aware of that dogs communicate to each other and to us; scratching, blinking in appeasement and many more. Some of these communications are what are called displacement behaviors, like scratching, like in the image below. The bigger dogs doesn’t have an itch, it’s telling the little dog that he’s friend by looking away and scratching.
If you can imagine all the ways dogs talk and how fast these signs can be, you’ll realize how it’s easy to miss some of the more subtle cues, giving way to some pretty big misunderstandings between humans and dogs. When we misunderstand dogs, we may be asking something of a dog who is telling us she’s very confused, which looks to us like refusal when in fact, it’s confusion. Responding as if the dog is being disobedient instead of confused we may get upset with them rather than realizing they need our help to better understand what we are asking for. Each time we misunderstand our dogs, we are breaking down the very fabric of our relationship, destroying the thing we want most, a healthy respectful and reciprocal bond.
Dogs also convey signs of joy or appeasement as shown in the image below. If you want the deepest, most profound bond with your dog, learning to speak her language is the best thing you can do for your relationship.
About the author: Jill Breitner is a professional dog trainer and dog body language expert for 40 years. She is a certified Fear Free Professional for Dogs and Cats; as well as Certified in Animal Behavior and Welfare. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language. Join Jill on her on her Facebook page.
Dog Decoder App: right there when you need it; in the palm of your hands. So, don’t hesitate. Get your app today. Your dog will thank you.