Dogs have been faithful companions to humans for thousands of years. The bond between humans and canines can be so strong, that we work together in life saving operations. Dogs are commonly used in high profile units such as search and rescue teams, and various other fire and police units. No other animal has joined the human cause like dogs have. This is largely because they have learned how to read our body language and can often understand what we’re asking of them. Whether communicating in the field of duty or in the living room, our dogs make a tremendous effort to know how we’re feeling and what expect of them.
This is not a one-way street. It’s our responsibility as pet owners to make every effort to understand how our dogs are feeling, and how they may react in various situations. The simplest way to read your pet’s emotions is to translate their body language. This will allow pet owners to become closer with their dogs, but it will also help owners understand when their dog is about to react negatively. Take a look at these identifiers, both you and your dog will benefit.
The Tale of The Tail
Your dog’s tail is a barometer for emotion. When your pup is happy, the tail will wag right along with the rest of his or her body and reflect a bouncy, jovial attitude. If the tail is upright and stiff, this is an alert or prelude to threatening behavior and you should evaluate the situation. If the tail is tucked under the body, this is a sign of anxiety or fear and a precursor to offensive behavior. Again, assess the situation. *Also note that just because the dog is wagging its tail, it doesn’t always mean he’s happy. Take in the dog’s demeanor as a whole.
Now Hear This: Ears and Teeth Are Easy Indicators
If your pup has relaxed ears, this is generally a sign of a relaxed dog. Ears that rest peacefully can communicate a mellow attitude. When your dog is playing and full of energy, they may perk up (for some dogs it’s just one ear which is particularly cute). The main warning sign when it comes to ears is noticing when they are pinned all the way back and usually accompanied by low growl or bared teeth. This is a sign to remove your dog from the environment.
Deconstructing Signs of Fear
When your pup gets into trouble at home (remember the indoor accidents or expensive sneakers turned chew toys?) they register your disapproval immediately. However, what humans may read as guilt—hunching close the ground, ears falling back, tail between the legs—is actually a sign of anxiety and in some cases fear. The dog is afraid of your reaction, and what may follow. Remember, no matter how upset you are with your pup, never use violence as a consequence. When disciplining your pet, it must be done while catching them in the act. Use a stern “No” and take them out of the room for a time out. Spray bottles are another form of healthy discipline.
Signs of fearfulness are complex, and as discussed earlier, can materialize in variety of body language. And while fear can come from being reprimanded at home, it can also surface when encountering a new animal or person. This can be seen in very distinct body language. The tail will be tucked under the body, very closely. Another sign is hackles-up, piloerection, which means raised fur. Bared teeth are another resurfacing sign of possible trouble. Even though your pet looks intimidating, he’s actually frightened, which can cause him to lash out. Remove your pet immediately.
The Fine Line Between Fear and Concentration
It’s obviously very important to understand when your dog is afraid, but it’s also important not confuse focus with fear. When your dog is intently focused on something, it can be a healthy sign of intelligence. How do you tell the difference? When your dog is alert and focused they will stand centered, ears up and forward, tail possibly straight. They will generally gaze in the direction of whatever sparked their attention, whether looking at a squirrel or a person. The trick here is to watch for those signs of focus to elevate to signs of aggression or fear. Growling, bared teeth, and spiked hair are all signs that their focus is giving way to fear.
Don’t Worry Be Happy
Most dog owners already know when their pup is happy. As stated earlier, dogs have been a trusted sidekick and friend to humans for years. This is no coincidence. Humans have an inherent understanding of what makes their beloved pet tick. Dogs communicate their joy through tongues hanging lazily out their mouths, bounding through the room, chasing their tail or favorite toy, and showering us with affection. We are lucky to have these four-legged friends!