How to communicate with your dog and interpret the messages it sends :understanding your canine's posture and gestures
Canines may not be able to verbalize their thoughts or speak to their owners. That does not mean that they have no way of letting owners know what is on their furry minds!! They have ways of getting their messages across that owners will find very useful and even vital to understand. Good communication with your dog helps to prevent unpleasant mishaps like aggression, biting and even depression.
So how does a canine communicate? He uses all parts of the body, very much like we do. By looking at his eyes, ears, tail, gestures and posture, we can know what our pooch is trying to tell us and attend to him quickly. Body language is an important indicator of mood, very much like it is in humans.
Learn to speak dog!
Observe your dog!
Take some time off, relax and just look at your dog. Each dog, just like each individual, is special and has different mannerisms and habits. Observation is the best way to access your dogs “dog-sanality”.
My West Highland Terrier, Cloudy, loves staring out of the window and I at first found that to be just adorable canine behavior. I did not think much about the behavior and what she actually wanted. That was a mistake on my part, for in soon developed into her wanting to dash out of the apartment whenever I opened the door. It then dawned on me that looking outside meant that she really wanted was to have a long walk so that she could sniff around and stretch a bit.
Take a look at your canine's posture
A dog’s posture tells owners what it wants and what its intentions are. It is time consuming to learn all the signals, but helps owners discern a canine’s mood and emotions.
When a dog is sure of itself, it stands upright, has a slow, wagging tail and its ears will be either pricked up or relaxed. Its pupils will be smaller as opposed to being dilated. If they are pricked up, it is not an aggressive sign but one that shows the alertness and curiosity of the dog.
When your dog stretches out in front of you with his head towards the ground, it is an invitation to play. For those who have not owned dogs, this can be read as an aggressive stance. It actually denotes a clear request. Let’s go play!!
A dog rolling over is submitting to his “leader of the pack” (in this case, the owner). It is a submission to the leader’s dominance. It expects to be rewarded for his deference to authority with a belly rub!!
Both my dogs, Cloudy and Misty, do this very often to let me know that they respect what I have to say. I give a belly rub and a treat.
This is yet another sign of play. When a dog hits a person or another dog with his rear end, it is a desire for what is known as “mammalian play.” Your dog may also want a scratch or have other needs, so it is good to observe him a bit more.
Suddenly stops what it is doing
This usually happens when your dog has a bone in its mouth. Do not get in the way! This is a clear indication of his desire to protect his possessions. He will most definitely bite if you try to remove his bone with your bare hands.
Another family West Highland Terrier, Sean, bit my mother’s finger off when she tried to do exactly that. He actually stole a chicken bone and my mother was afraid of the splinters. When she tried to remove it, he got defensive and bit her finger off almost totally. She needed stitching and physiotherapy.
If your dog constantly paces the ground, he is looking for something to do. Keep it occupied with its toys or get ready to take it out for a walk.
Cloudy is a hyperactive dog with a constant need for something to do. She loves pacing in front of the window to indicate her desire to go outside to play. I oblige when it is her time for a walk, or give her nylon bones to chew.
Canine aggression is definitely the behavior we all can relate to. The dog will lean forward and appear stiff. He will, of course, bare his teeth and emit a growl. His tail will be usually tucked under or be wagging frantically as he barks.
Spot the warning signs early. If your dog is appearing stiff and poised to lunge forward, or the whites of its eyes start showing as it looks around, take steps to rein him in by using a leash or distracting him.
Watch out for your canine's little actions!
The little things that your dog does can show you what mood it is in and what its intention is.
Curiosity or being puzzled.
Your dog will have his head tilted to one side to show his interest or that he is listening to what you are saying. This is adorable behavior, but also indicates that he wants to know more.
Hyperactive and curious dogs like Cloudy always love to tilt their heads to the side when they hear strangers at the door or when someone suddenly laughs. They want to know more about the sudden sounds and movement.
Mounting is a behavior that often gets owners a little uncomfortable. Often associated with mating and sexual reasons, owners are embarrassed when their dogs suddenly have a hump fest when their friends are around. Some owners are also uncomfortable because they think that this is a sign of dominance.
Perhaps it is, but there are other reasons for a dog to mount. Some may be excited or anxious, while others are bored and seeking attention. Interpret its intentions by observing a little more. If your dog is anxious, assert yourself, stroke it and calm it down. If it is bored, give it something to do.
Hiding under the bed or couch
A dog that does this is very often insecure. Something about its surroundings may be bothering it. Observe a little more to discern what it actually is.
Cloudy loves to duck under the bed when I brush her teeth. It did not take me long to figure out what she was afraid of!
This is an invitation to play or a sign of friendliness. A dog usually does this to get his owner’s attention in a good way. He may also want his walk or have other needs, like to have his hunger satisfied! A raised paw is a clear sign of friendship.
Dogs are pack animals, and it is not surprising that they wish to establish their superiority over the rest of the pack. This is done by one dog placing its paws on the back neck of another or by staring. He may just stand over another dog in a lower position (such as when the dog is sleeping.)
I often have to stop Cloudy from being dominant over my Schnauzer, Misty, as she is older and has a neurological disorder. She is a gentle soul who will just be stepped over by the younger Cloudy. When they get into a fracas, I usually stop Cloudy with a firm and controlled "No."
When a dog gets up and shakes, this is an indication that it has finished whatever it was doing previously, usually resting. This means that it is time for owners to find it something to occupy itself with!! If there is a threat nearby, owners may want to remove it because the dog may shake as a sign of being alert to the threat and may proceed with unwelcome behavior.
Check your dog’s tail.
Dogs wag their tails, so everyone knows. What everyone may not know is that they wag their tails in different ways to express different intentions. A wagging tail does not always mean that a dog is entirely happy, so do be careful.
Tail in the upright position
This means that a dog is feeling very sure of itself and is in a playful, assertive mood. A dog with such a tail is usually the “alpha dog” among other dogs.
A note is that there may be more than one dog that wishes to be the “Alpha dog” and fights may break out viz possessions or one trying to be more dominant over the other. Practice good pack management and let them all know that the owner is the boss.
Tail between the legs or down
This is usually a sign of insecurity or fear. If a dog is in this position, it is good to check what could be bothering it. There could be some threat to the environment.
A neutral tail
This tail is just raised above its body. It shows a friendly, relaxed dog. It is being secure and playful!!
This is usually accompanied by bowing and is an invitation to play. Take this time to start a game of throw and catch with the dog!
Conclusion to Part 1
Dogs tell us many things, so it is up to owners to watch out for the messages canines are sending. Taking time to watch out for a dog’s signals prevents dangerous situations and ensures good communication with a pet.
There is still more to discuss about the way a dog communicates viz its ears, eyes and even facial gestures, which is a subject of another article. May looking out for these communication signals create better bonds between owners and their dogs!
Copyright (C) Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin All rights reserved.
Other Pet Hubs by Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin
- Cleaning a dog’s ears - the whys, what's and the how tos
Every dog owner has problems cleaning his dog's ears - here are some reasons why dogs should have their ears cleaned and the steps one should take in cleaning them.
- Therapy dogs and improving emotional states
Showcasing the very good work of Therapy Dogs, more than man's best friend. Is your dog a suitable therapy dog?
- Professor K9 on the gravity of animal abuse
This article discusses the reasons for animal abuse and how we can stop it.
- Coping with the terminal effects of Canine Cancer - Rosco's experience
This hub is about a dog's experience with cancer. It details the symptoms of cancer.
- Warning signs of neurological disorders in canines - Misty's experience
How do you know if your dog has a neurological disorder? This article aims to help owners spot signs of neurological problems in dogs, coming from the author's own experience. What are the neurological disorders that bother dogs?
- How to Stop Being Afraid of Dogs in Three Easy Steps
Follow these three simple steps to overcome your fear of dogs. These self help techniques and procedures will help you stop being afraid of dogs, just as they helped me.