Welcome to May which is National Pet Month! This month I have decided to cover topics that otherwise may not have found a spot this year in our Blog Schedule to be discussed...so hold tight...our articles this month will cover a wide variety of topics, not one specific topic.
First up this month I wanted to address basic body language in both dogs and cats in a shorter crash course. These articles are not in depth, but are intended to provide you a starting point to understand your dog/cat a little bit better & create a better pet/owner relationship as you understand their body language better.
What is your dog trying to tell you?
Dogs have a language that allows them to communicate their emotional state & their intentions to others around them. Although dogs do use sounds and signals, much of the information that they send is through their body language, specifically their facial expressions and body postures.
Understanding what your dog is saying can give you a lot of useful information, such as when your dog is spooked and nervous about what is going on, or when your dog is edgy and might be ready to snap at someone. You do have to look at the dog's face and his whole body.
There is nothing better than being with a happy dog. The body is fluid and relaxed, the mouth is slightly open with tongue hanging to the side and all the signals a dog gives off communicate joy, confidence and a desire to invite play and attention.
Dogs are naturally curious animals and the more confident they are, the more they can deal with novelty and change. All dogs will size up any situation to ensure safety using the following language.
This is a very dominant and confident animal. Here he is not only expressing his social dominance, but is also threatening that he will act aggressively if he is challenged.
When a dog has to defend herself from an actual or perceived threat she will demonstrate defensive or offensive language in order to keep herself safe. This language manifests itself in behaviors that encourage a threat to keep their distance.
If the threat does not back away and the dog has nowhere to go, defensive behavior will turn offensive and the dog may bite. These behaviors are usually easy to recognize and understand.
When dogs are stressed and nervous, they exhibit many different kinds of behavior that either help relieve the stress they are feeling or appease a perceived threat. While dogs like humans, yawn when they are tired, they are also much more likely to yawn when they are nervous.
Stressed dogs can easily become fearful if the perceived threat or stressful situation is not resolved so quick action on your part as an owner to resolve the situation or simply remove your pet from the area is key to preventing this from escalating further.
You may see this behavior when your dog believes they are in trouble or in the face of a dominant or aggressive dog. You may also see appeasement behavior such as muzzle/lip licking, excessive blinking and gaze avoidance.
Worried dogs can also easily become fearful if the perceived threat or stressful situation is not resolved so quick action on your part as an owner to resolve the situation or simply remove your pet from the area is key to preventing this from escalating further.
If the appeasement behavior does not fix the situation, you may see a dog take the submissive position where they expose their most vulnerable body parts (stomach & throat). They may also urinate. This is different then when a dog is excited & rolls over for a belly rub, since that will be accompanied by a wagging tail, panting, & ears being in a more up & alert position instead of flat against the head.
The "play bow" is the basic invitation to play. It may be accompanied by excited barking or playful attacks and retreats. This set of signals may be used as a sort of "punctuation mark" to indicate that any previous rough behaviour was not meant as a threat or challenge.
As with any subject that we discuss on this blog, the more informed you are as an owner, the better you can understand your pet & their needs. I hope this crash course has helped with the basics of dog body language. As always, I do encourage you to continue doing your own research in this topic to continue learning.
Youtube does have several great videos on this topic as a point of reference. Next week we will continue our Pet Body Language Crash Course with our Cat Edition so STAY TUNED!!