For those of you who don’t know- I’m a college student, which means travelling a fair amount. For most in my position, summer jobs are a necessary evil- but fortunately for me, I look forward to mine. I can’t wait to be at Lee Shore and spending my day surrounded by cute pups. While I love getting to hang out with all the animals at LSR, it’s not all fun and games. In order to keep yourself and the animals safe, you have to learn to read each other’s reactions. Animals have a wide range of emotions, just like people; fortunately, this week I’m coming at you with a guide to understand dog’s body language! That way you can be sure you know what your pup is trying to tell you.
Dogs eyes are super important in understanding their body language. A key thing to look for is the size and shape of their pupils, and the whites of their eyes (the sclera). Anxious dogs may have eyes that appear rounder, or the sclera may become bigger/more visible. Dogs eyes may also have a “glassy” appearance when they’re scared or stressed. If you notice these signs, try to identify what’s upsetting your dog, and, if possible, remove the stressor from the area, or make it clear to your dog that they’re safe.
When dogs are relaxed their eyes have a more almond shape, and the sclera is often not visible at all. Happy dog’s eyes can be described as squinty, so not seeing whites is a sign that your dog is comfortable and content.
Scared dog: Relaxed dog:
Tension is pretty clear in the mouth, and if your dog’s mouth is tensed up, more than likely so are they. In their relaxed state, dogs keep their mouths open, and may pant. A dog with its mouth closed, lips pulled back, and/or that is panting rapidly is showing signs of stress. Your dog may also be stressed if it is drooling but not in the presence of food (This is more subjective, though, some dogs are just droolers).
Another thing to look out for is a wrinkled muzzle, and the exposure of a dog’s teeth. While some dogs show their teeth in a happy smile, others may display an “offensive pucker”. This is when dogs wrinkle their muzzles, and the corners of their mouths pull back into a “C” shape. To differentiate between happy and tense smiles, look at the rest of your dog’s body language. Widened eyes and wrinkled foreheads may alert you to the fact your dog is anxious, but relaxed ears and a wagging tail are evidence that your pup is happy as a clam.
Dogs who are becoming stressed may also start yawning or licking excessively. This is a warning sign, and if you notice it by itself, or accompanied with tension in their body, the situation probably needs to be assessed and diffused.
Relaxed Dog Body Language:
Dogs ears are a little bit harder to read, simply because there are so many types of dogs ears (And we love that, personally I’m sucker for floppy ears, but to each their own). There’s a formula to help you understand what your dog’s ears are saying. Generally, content dogs have their ears slightly back or to the side, like this swell fella:
Dogs have the ability to move their ears forward and back at the base, so if your dog’s ears are forward (generally their foreheads wrinkle, too) something has piqued their interest. They may have just seen a squirrel outside that caused them to become alert, but it may also be a sign that they’re frightened.
Alert Dog Body Language:
While our favorite thing to see is a wagging tail on a pup, there areother emotions that the tail can display. The first thing to consider when looking at a dog’s tail is the position of the base of tail.
Relaxed: Tail extending from the base of the spine, neither raised nor lowered.
Fearful: Tucked away between hind legs or, held stiff against the stomach.
Excited: Tail raised higher than normal, above the level of the spine.
Next to consider is the way in which the tail is moving. Not all wagging means that your pup is happy or comfortable, but there are pretty distinct ways to tell different wags apart.
Normal: Sweeping side to side, or in a circular pattern (Happy dogs are dogs who knock things off tables with their tails, which is endearing… sort of).
Excited: Still side-to-side, but now at a faster pace.
Fearful: Stiff, firm wagging (if the tail is not held rigid)
Fearful Dog Body Language:
Important:If a dog becomes aggressive, the best thing to do is to remove yourself and others from the situation. Aggressive behavior should not prompt a dramatic reaction to your pet, disciplining your pet is great sometimes, but preventing bites is always the #1 priority.
Alright, y’all, that’s all I’ve got for today! I hope you enjoyed, and I’ll be covering body language for the next few weeks, so if dogs aren’t your thing- fear not. I hope you guys all have a great week, and I’ll see you back here next Tuesday.
Also: here are some great articles I found while researching, if you want more information on this topic, I highly recommend checking them out :)
Joy Shanahan is a student at Appalachian State University with a passion for community service. She can be found in the dance studios at ASU or researching helpful animal tips for Lee Shore.