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Title: "Dog Body Language Tips: How to Understand and Interpret Canine Body Language"

Updated: Mar 1

Learn dog body language tips and find out what your dog is trying to tell you.

Dog body language is often subtle. A dog's communication can be one simple gesture or a string of ongoing gestures. Like us, dog body language is used to express emotions, request space, and show our intent and excitement levels. If your dog is in boarding and training with #CareyTrainsMe you are required to read this blog in its integrity and will be identifying your dog's communication when you pick up your dog from their training program.

Dogs innately have calming skills, which they practice with each other to maintain healthy

relationships, diffuse conflict and avoid aggression. They send signals that help both dogs deal with interactions, such as one dog charging another. Many dogs use calming signals to show goodwill or even ask another dog for information. They are saying, “I am calm and respectful, show me that you are, too.”

A calming signal can be subtle or overt, as small as a slight turn of the head, or

sniffing/scratching the ground. Or more overt, such as a big loud yawn.

Dogs without the ability to use and understand calming signals can struggle in socialization.

(Docking tails or ears and wearing clothing can hinder the ability to communicate through

calming signals.) Once you know how to understand your dog’s body language, you’ll be better able to respond to its needs.

The best dog body language tip is understanding dogs’ calming signals

Here are some common calming signals your dog may show you so you can learn how to

understand dog body language more deeply:

• Looks away from another dog or person.

• Yawning.

• Large sigh.

• Sniffing “nothing”.

• Raises front paw as a question: “Are you cool? Tell me more.”

• Shakes off, as if wet, head only or entire body.

• Scratching (many think their new puppy has dry skin).

• Blinking slowly.

• Lip or nose licking.

• Tongue flicks.

• When approaching a dog, human or item, they move in an arc pattern and make a wide

semi-circle area.

• Moving in an arc pattern, leaving a wide semi-circle berth).

• Sitting or lying down with back to another dog or person.

• Stretching, with front paws down and rear high. Similar to a play bow, but with a

different meaning.

• Making a soft face, with ears back and soft-looking eyes.

Understanding dog calming signals is useful in training your puppy or dog, especially when it becomes overexcited and stops responding to cues, turning away from you and scratching its body.

When that happens, turn your head, give a loud sigh or yawn and take a break. Your puppy will be happy you understood that they needed a break.

How to Recognize and Understand Canine Stress Signals in Dog Body Language

Early stress signals, known as displacement behaviours, are the same as calming signals. Your dog is telling you it’s uncomfortable. If the stress escalates or does not resolve itself, the

language can turn more aggressive, with lowered body posture, ears flat back, eyes

averted or darting, or wide open “whale eyes” with the whites showing, all indicating your dog

is in a state of hyper-vigilance.

Progressively, other signals emerge Stress signals in dogs.

• hackles up

• leaning back on haunches

• backing away

• hiding from you

• shaking or shivering

• whining or growling

• air-snapping for no visible reason

• lunging with growling

• lunging with snapping (no contact)

• biting backs of legs or pants as humans turn away

• defensive tooth display (with most front and back teeth showing)

• offensive tooth display (only front incisors showing, including canines), or submissive

grin coupled with submissive body postures.

Examine the two puppies below. Are both of these puppies enjoying the playtime?

The Black and Tan puppy is annoyed and this is not healthy, relaxed play.
Is this just puppy play? Chevy and Beans two puppies playing during their Puppy Boarding School Board and Train Program.

Distance-increasing signals are a request for space - the dog is asking you to stop doing what you are doing and to stop approaching.

Distance seeking behaviours

  • Agonistic pucker, (nose wrinkled, teeth bared)

  • Ears flattened (pinned back).

  • Intense stare

  • Bark & lunge

  • Head turned away

  • Lip licking or tongue flicking

  • Tail lowered

  • Splitting (dog goes between two other dogs to head off conflict).

  • Crouch (head lower than its body, tail down & legs bent).

  • Height seeking posture

  • Tail raised

  • Mouth closed

  • Low growl

  • Punctuated barking

  • Paw lift

Trainers often refer to a ladder of aggression. The aggressive behaviour increases (climbs the ladder) if the dog is not given space.

  1. Yawning, blinking, nose licking

  2. Dogs might also lift a paw to try and calm the situation.

  3. Turning body away, sitting, pawing

  4. Creeping, ears back

  5. Growl

  6. Barking and Lunging

  7. Snap (snapping at the air)

  8. Biting

Never approach or use force on a dog displaying this aggressive body language or it will escalate to a bite. You will need to contact a professional for assistance, call animal control 311 in an emergency.

How do you know if your dog wants to engage? They will have softer body language that is more wiggly and gentle.

Distance decreasing signals.

  • Play bow

  • Easy wagging tail, circle wagging like a windmill. Just because a dog wags its tail doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a happy dog. Sometimes dogs wag their tails when they are aroused.

  • Submissive grinning

  • Submissively licking other dogs

  • Soliciting care signals

  • Relaxed posture

  • Soft eyes

Dog Body Language signs indicate arousal.

Observing dog language and how they communicate with us and their own species is very

valuable in training, handling, and trust building. Once you have learned dog body language

your dog can communicate if and when they are stressed and to what degree they are stressed, as well as if they are enjoying their surroundings and activities. Your dog can also offer us signs that let us know they are in distress.

Dog show signs of being over-aroused/hyperactive that are often very obvious and seem out of control. Over-aroused dogs are typically not aggressive but their hyperactivity can be

dangerous and overwhelming especially with larger-sized dogs jumping and knocking down

children and the elderly. Having a hyper/over-aroused dog can be very frustrating. These dogs are at the highest risk of being physically punished and rehomed. Many people believe that an over-aroused/hyper dog ‘just lacks respect and boundaries’ and that the owner is not ‘Alpha’ enough or hasn’t put the dog in its place or shown the dog that they are the ‘leader of the pack’. Hyper and over-aroused dogs’ owners are far too often told to ‘correct the unwanted behaviour’. Punishment and physical force will never work to solve the underlying hyperactive issues. The dog may stop jumping for the moment it is punished it but the next time they are in an exciting environment they will go back to jumping and the handler will have to physically punish the dog with even more force. Never use physical force to punish.

Overarousal and hyperactivity is often the response to anxiety, insecurity/lack of confidence, and overstimulation. Hyper-activity has been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and punishment and physical force will only add to more future behaviour problems.

A highly aroused dog will be outwardly very excited. Some dogs may show just a facial grimace (open mouth pulled back looking like a grin with tongue hanging out), and might be unable to settle. Other dogs may be panting, jumping up, or vocalizing. They may also become grabby, or mouthy, may chatter their teeth, or you may notice full-body shaking.

Signs that your dog is over-aroused:

Signs of over-arousal.

• Excessive friendliness, jumping, licking, and mouthing.

• Excessive panting.

• Hackles up for a long period of time.

• Hyper activity – inability to settle.

• Destructive – grabbing and stealing items to shred.

• Biting/mouthing arms, pant legs, and leash.

• Panting and sometimes drooling excessively.

• Eyes wide, large and pupils dilated.

• Excitement Shaking.

• Facial Grimace, grin with mouth pulled back, tongue out and dilated eyes.

• Unable to focus.

• Excessive barking, whining, and unable to settle.

• Teeth chattering.

• Mounting and humping other dogs, people, and items.

• Forcefully snatching treats and items from your hand.

• Obsessive over items and unable to leave the item and settle.

If you have a hyperactive and over-aroused dog you will need to work on calmness protocols

and may need to change your daily routine like limiting or eliminating high-intensity chase

games like ball and frisbee and add enrichment, confidence-building and impulse control

games into your dog’s daily life.

If your dog reads body language how does your dog respond to your body movements?

Take some time to examine the images below and see what calming, stress signs or over-arousal signs you can identify.

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