How To Decode Your Dog’s Body Language

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Basic knowledge about how to understand your dog is part of Pup Parenthood 101—but learning canine communication is no small feat. Unlike humans, it’s said that dogs mainly rely on nonverbal body language. Body language signals can be distinctive from breed to breed, and even differ slightly based upon their physical appearance.

A dog’s body language isn’t one hundred percent straightforward either; rather, it can be similar to a foreign language you have no experience with. Put simply, dog body language is universal to all canines yet unique enough to communicate your own dog’s emotions, thoughts, and intentions to you. To better prevent dog-human misunderstandings, here’s how to decode your dog’s body language.

The Tail: Wags Upon Wags

Author Karen Davison once wrote that “a dog can express more with his tail in minutes than an owner can express with his tongue in hours.” While tail wags may seem like an obvious sign of happiness or friendliness, this body language signal should not be misunderstood.

A wagging tail can indicate a number of emotions that are radiating within your stimulated dog. Happiness is just one of them. Keep an eye out for the speed and position of their tail. A faster, rapid pace indicates a fearful dog on alert, while a slower, relaxed, side-sweeping pace indicates a dog comfortable in their surroundings. The higher the tail, the most assertive your dog generally is.

The Head: Face, Eyes, and Ears Signals

While the tail is the main indicator of a dog’s standing or state, their face, eyes, and ears can also speak volumes. For example, humans smile and show their teeth when they are happy. Contrastingly, dogs lifting their lips and showing their teeth is a sign of aggression.

If you wondering how to decode your dog’s body language, be aware that direct staring is an aggressive warning sign to back off. Contrarily, an aversion of the eyes tends to signify fear or relaxation, depending on the looseness of their body. Perked ears demonstrate attentiveness while flattened ears are a clear-cut sign of stress, fear, or submission.

The Mouth: Common Behaviors

A dog’s overall sense of ease can be sharply evaluated by what they’re doing with their mouth—other than barking and growling. This can help you understand stranger behaviors or habits, such as why dogs bite their leash. More than one explanation can provide an answer depending on if they’re communicating playfulness, a need for attention, or are coping from overstimulation.

Typically, yawning, licking, and panting are some ordinary symbols of discomfort. An open, relaxed mouth or wiggly movement tends to illustrate playfulness or happiness. Either way, learning further about this body language is beneficial to better communicate with and understand one another as true companions.

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