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Elyse

A Guide On Dog Body Language

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Reading and interpreting the body language of dogs is very important; it can help you analyze behavioral problems, prevent a dog fight, or simply help you to understand your dog when it tries to communicate with you.


I made this little 'guide' to help you interpret your dog's body language; if anybody would like to add anything or correct me (as I'm not perfect!), please feel free. This is just what I have learned from experience by watching dogs at the dog park interact.


First of all, a nice little quote on the problem of using the 'Alpha Roll' to correct your dog's problems:
 

 

"Forcing the dog onto its back is the equivalent of an abusive parent beating a child to force it to say, 'I love you.' Although he or she may have forced the words out of the child's mouth, they cannot force the statement to be true.... Forcing a dog into a submissive position is the Doggish equivalent of this scenario. Even worse, this technique may actually anger the dog enough to provoke it to attack. ... Forcing a dog into an alpha roll, or shaking the dog, both constitute physical aggression. Physical aggression is not communication. If there is good communication, then such confrontations need not occur."

- Stanley Coren, "How to Speak Dog"

 

Aggressive Dominance

- General posture: Stiff-legged, body leaning slightly towards the cause of its behaviour. Hackles can be raised. Body stretched upward to make themselves taller; may slightly stand on toes to do so. Head high.

- Eyes: Staring at the object/thing that is the cause of this behaviour.

- Ears: Forward

- Mouth: Lips curled up into a classic snarl, teeth showing, mouth can be open.

- Muzzle: Wrinkled and tight

- Tail: High in the air. Stiff.

- Vocalizations: Deep growls, loud growls, aggressive barking.

Will likely bite/show physical aggression if he is challenged by another dog.
 

post-3404-0-98483000-1362360823_thumb.jp




NOTE: Truly aggressive-dominant dogs are quite rare, and body signals may be mixed with the 'Fearful-Aggressive (Defensive)' signs.

NOTE: Some dogs are leash-aggressive, this does NOT necessarily mean they are dominant. Usually dogs that are leash-aggressive feel 'trapped' because they cannot escape. As in the 'flight or fight' response, because they cannot flee (due to being attached by a leash), they have no other choice than to 'fight' or to show aggressive behaviours.


Passive Dominance



- General posture: Stiff-legged. Seen stretching the body to be over the other dog's head.

- Eyes: Staring at the dog directly.

- Ears: Forward

- Mouth: closed; unless panting

- Muzzle: Smooth. Smells the other dog first; can smell the face first before going to the scent glands near the anus.

- Tail: Held high; stiffly wags in a tight arc when smelling dog. Wagging is medium to slow. Limited movement.

- Vocalizations: Usually none. Can softly growl?



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post-3404-0-88553800-1389408783_thumb.pn



Fearful-Aggressive (Defensive)



- General posture: Body is low to the ground. Hackles may or may not be raised. Head low.

- Eyes: Pupils are dilated; eyes wide. Eyes are staring at the cause of his fear.

- Ears: Back and flat against the head.

- Mouth: Lips may be slightly curled (but not as much as a snarl). Teeth also may be showing.

- Muzzle: may have slight wrinkles

- Tail: Tucked in between legs. Stationary. The amount of 'tuck' indicates the amount of fear...?

- Vocalizations: soft growling? Barking?


Will most likely bite if it continues to be threatened. Behaviour may also switch to 'Fearful' if it continues to be threatened.


agression-signs.jpg




Fearful



- General posture: Body low to the ground. Head low.

- Eyes: Pupils are dilated; eyes wide. Staring at the cause of his fear. Whale eye.

- Ears: Back flat against the head.

- Mouth: May be panting rapidly.

- Muzzle: Wrinkled and tight

- Tail: Either completely in between the legs or slightly in between. (varies based on the degree of fear)

- Vocalizations: Yelps, whines, yips.



Will most likely flee or hide; however behaviour may change to 'Fearful-Aggressive (Defensive)' if it isn't given an option to flee the situation.



max_400_scared_dog.jpg



Figure 4: Notice the lowered body position, the tucked in tail, the bent legs, and the lowered head and ears. This is all to make the dog appear smaller and less of a threat.





Passive Submission:



- General posture: Body lowered. May look away with head.

- Eyes: Eye contact will be brief before they look away; may avoid contact altogether.

- Ears: slightly back

- Mouth: mouth closed; unless panting.

- Muzzle: smooth. Allows other dog to smell first; rarely greets face to face.

- Tail: low to the ground or in its normal 'relaxed' position.

- Vocalizations: None


post-3404-135859985494_thumb.png




Figure 5: The husky (right) is showing signs of passive submission to the boxer (left). Notice the hunched over body, the ears straight back touching the neck/head, the loose posture, and the low tail. Taken from a video I took myself, the tail was wagging (not really fast, but not slow) in a wide arc.



Active Submission



- General posture: Body is lowered; head is lowered. A front paw can be lifted either slightly or all the way off the ground.

- Eyes: Eye contact is very brief; may be reluctant to maintain eye contact or they look away frequently from your gaze.

- Ears: Back

- Mouth: Licking the more dominant dog's chin (or, if your a person, licking your chin if they can reach!)

- Muzzle: smooth/relaxed

- Tail: low to the ground.

- Vocalizations: Can whine.

 

petfinder9.jpg


Complete Submission



- General posture: Rolled over on back, showing his jugular and stomach. Head turned to completely avoid eye contact. May sprinkle some urine. Allows more dominant dog to stand over him.

- Eyes: Slightly closed.

- Ears: Back; flat against head.

- Mouth: closed; unless panting

- Muzzle: Smooth

- Tail: In between legs as far as it'll go.

- Vocalizations: Long whines, yelps.



1247947_f520.jpg



Playful

Usually 'invites' play by play bowing. (lowering self's nose towards the ground; butt high in air. Tail wagging). Can hold play bow until other dog responds with their own bow, or release it right away when other dog does not respond.



- General posture: Relaxed. Pace is bouncy when running/trotting. Might jump in the air while running. May also roll around on the ground (scent rolling), with tongue lolling out of mouth.

- Eyes: normal/relaxed

- Ears: relaxed

- Mouth: Closed, usually panting. If play fighting, teeth may show, but no other signs of aggression (no growling, etc.). Tongue is loose; may loll out of mouth.

- Muzzle: Smooth

- Tail: varying levels of height depending on their current mood during play. Can be wagging quickly.

- Vocalizations: Playful growls (soft, broken up), yips, yowls, barks.



Suka_34_by_CanuckZD.jpg


 

Figure 8: the Siberian Husky in this photograph is inviting the other dog to play.

 

post-3404-0-75480300-1389408790_thumb.pn

 

 

 

Relaxed



- General posture: Relaxed. Loose.

- Eyes: Normal; blinks slowly. May have half-lidded eyes if lying down.

- Ears: 'normal' position.

- Mouth: Closed, or panting. Tongue may be loose.

- Muzzle: Smooth

- Tail: in the 'normal' position.

- Vocalizations: Usually no sound.



suka_59_by_canuckzd-d3a3qlw.jpg

Figure 9: The Siberian Husky in the photo is relaxed. Note the partly closed eyelids and the loose tongue.

Happy/Excited

Similar to 'playful'



- General posture: Relaxed position. Pace may be bouncy or feel 'light'

- Eyes: wide eyes; but relaxed.

- Ears: back, touching head.

- Mouth: Usually open, with tongue loose. May loll out of mouth. Dogs that are not properly trained will mouth your body (usually hands) and loose clothing or lightly nip at them.

- Muzzle: Smooth

- Tail: wagging rapidly in wide arcs. Loose movement.

- Vocalizations: Excited yips, yowls, woos, howls, barks.



Hunting



- General posture: Body low to the ground. Walking very slowly. Places steps deliberately and slowly as to not make a sound. Freezing position when the animal turns to look at them; resumes stalking towards animal if it looks away and does not flee.

- Eyes: Staring at the animal.

- Ears: Perked; erect and pointing towards prey.

- Mouth: Immediately stops panting if they were. Mouth closed.

- Muzzle: Smooth

- Tail: Can be lowered, to help one look smaller to aid in stealth. Can also be stiffly held straight backwards.

- Vocalizations: None. Very soft and quiet breathing.



2+Stalking.jpg





Pain



Depending on the degree of pain and where it hurts, their reaction to pain tends to differ. This part's format will be different than previous...as the previous formats are not applicable.



In general, most dogs try to hide their pain - and are very effective at it! Most, from my experience, don't vocalize their pain unless it REALLY hurts (like a broken bone.)



You might notice small differences in their movements - for example, if they are experiencing arthritis in one of their hips, you might notice a very slight limp. The dog would favour that leg and use the other legs more - this is seen by the difference in muscle mass. The leg that is hurt would have less muscle mass than the other legs because it is not being used as often.



You also might notice behaviour changes. Maybe they are walking a little slower than usual, not pulling as hard, or falling behind slightly on walks. They might have difficulty going up stairs, or they might have difficulty getting up from the lying down position. Their appetite might have decreased.



In summary, the following is a list of behavioural changes you might notice when your dog is hurt or suffering:



- Loss of appetite

- Stumbling

- Having trouble getting up/down stairs.

- Difficulty in getting up (from sitting or lying down)

- Reluctance to exercise

- Reluctance to play

- Temperament changes - more aggressive or very timid

- Lethargic

- Favouring a certain part of the body

- Atrophied muscle of the favoured limb (if applicable) due to favouring it.

- Swelling of the hurt joint/muscle/limb

- Bleeding



(Anyone is free to add to this list!)



In addition to different types and classifications of pain, there's also the sudden pain reactions (like whining, whimpering, or yelping) or the more-difficult-to-spot gradually increasing pain.



Also, different breeds have different pain thresholds (or the amount of pain they can stand before they start showing signs). Breeds that were bred to fight, for example the Pit Bull breeds, would have a higher pain threshold (and therefore not show as many signs - or none at all!) than a breed that has been bred to do something else.





Other Misc Behaviours...



Scent-Marking



There are many ways for dogs to mark their scent: scratching the ground, urinating on objects (usually vertical objects, if possible, with their leg hiked if they are more of the dominant type), and scent-rolling.



Scratching the ground usually occurs after the dog pees on an object, although it can occur just by itself. Up to 4 paws can scratch the ground, although some dogs only use the 2 hind paws.

The paws contain glands that secrete the dog's individual scent; the scraping action stimulates these glands to create more 'scent' to wipe on the ground.



Another method of scent-marking is by urinating on an object. In either sex, the dog will lift its leg up (hike it up) to mark on the object - that is usually vertical. The higher the dog lifts its leg, the more dominant it is trying to be as it would want its scent to be as high as possible.

In more dominant dogs, the dog might 'mark' or pee over another dog's urine or it might pee on a lot of objects (like, for example, on a walk or at the dog park.), or it might 're-urinate' over the objects it already urinated on.


A 3rd method of scent-marking is by rolling around on the ground. This spreads their scent over a wider area than the 'urine' method or the 'scraping' method. They can roll over multiple times, or just once.The dog can also do this in play, however.




Humping/Mounting - Why does my dog do it?

Please read the following link - it contains 4 pages of an article that explains why they hump and how its a perfectly normal behavior. (But, you can still correct it if you don't like it.)

www.husky-owners.com/forum/index.php?/topic/42769-humping-why-do-they-do-it




For more visual aids on dog body language, please visit these 2 excellent threads:



http://www.husky-owners.com/forum/threads/listen-by-looking.36065/

http://www.husky-owners.com/forum/threads/let-me-hear-your-body-talk.36072/

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Don't assume that because a dog's tail is wagging, that it's friendly or happy. With aggression, the tail may wag - but it's very different from a friendly wag. It will be very stiff and tight in its movement, not the gentle, relaxed wave of a friendlier mood...

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Don't assume that because a dog's tail is wagging, that it's friendly or happy. With aggression, the tail may wag - but it's very different from a friendly wag. It will be very stiff and tight in its movement, not the gentle, relaxed wave of a friendlier mood...

Thanks Gigi, I forgot to add that in!

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It's hard to remember all you wanted to say! My problem is that there's so much I just KNOW, and I either don't think about it, or just can't find the words to put what I know (almost instinctively) so that others will understand.

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Very interesting + informative

Nel is very fearful of everything but shows all the signs of agressive dominance however she only greets other dogs from inbetween my legs as she tries to hide from them, also her tail is nearly always inbetween her legs when greeting another dog. It's only if the dog walks off that she seems interested in sniffing it but as soon as it clocks her she runs straight back to me...

Strange ???

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brilliant thread :) have made into a sticky as i think this is something that needs to be easily found by everyone :)

Thanks for making it a sticky! :)

If anyone would like to add anything, or if you find pictures that can go with the different 'categories', feel free to post 'em and i'll add them!

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Very interesting + informative

Nel is very fearful of everything but shows all the signs of agressive dominance however she only greets other dogs from inbetween my legs as she tries to hide from them, also her tail is nearly always inbetween her legs when greeting another dog. It's only if the dog walks off that she seems interested in sniffing it but as soon as it clocks her she runs straight back to me...

Strange ???

Might be insecurity?

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Lip licking is a nervous behavior. Yawning can be used to show a dog/human they mean no harm (usually when they feel threatened or unsure.) The "whale eye" is usually immediately followed by a bite. Profuse shedding is a sign of nervous tension.

Just trying to rattle off those I know off hand. There's a great lecture on canine silent communication I need to find it...

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Great thread, though I disagree with the last line " 'Pain' as that one's pretty obvious."

Canines are very good at hiding pain and I think you'd find others would appreciate that addition to your thread.

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Great thread, though I disagree with the last line " 'Pain' as that one's pretty obvious."

Canines are very good at hiding pain and I think you'd find others would appreciate that addition to your thread.

Oh, okay. Thanks for the suggestion! And, I agree, dogs DO hide their pain. I'll try to do some research and add to this...as Suka hides his pain VERY well...most of the time I don't even know his arthritis is bothering him.

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Iesel does the hunting thing to other dogs on the field sometimes and then completely lies down and let's the other dog come to him what does this mean?

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Iesel does the hunting thing to other dogs on the field sometimes and then completely lies down and let's the other dog come to him what does this mean?

My dog sometimes does this too...so for my boy it can't be submission (he's dominant towards other dogs). I take it as him just being mischievous.

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[quote name='"saintlysinner :), post: 565036, member: 7513"']brilliant post, thank you...will go a long way, to helping me understand my dog's, and be able to read them more clearly :) :)

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My dog sometimes does this too...so for my boy it can't be submission (he's dominant towards other dogs). I take it as him just being mischievous.

bex0409

I take it to mean invitation most of the time. It's a more passive way of inviting another dog over than the play stance or just running up. It's a way of saying to an insecure or shy dog "I'm approachable and I'd like to meet you!"

Unless they are down in more of a crouch with their head tucked low and body stiff - then they could be waiting until the other dog gets close enough to pounce! I've only ever seen this with herding breeds, though, and it's usually to initiate play.

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bex0409

I take it to mean invitation most of the time. It's a more passive way of inviting another dog over than the play stance or just running up. It's a way of saying to an insecure or shy dog "I'm approachable and I'd like to meet you!"

Unless they are down in more of a crouch with their head tucked low and body stiff - then they could be waiting until the other dog gets close enough to pounce! I've only ever seen this with herding breeds, though, and it's usually to initiate play.

That may not apply to Suka, then, because he only does it sometimes and he's definitely not shy or insecure. Maybe he only did it because he saw other dogs do it earlier and wanted to try it? I don't know...

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That may not apply to Suka, then, because he only does it sometimes and he's definitely not shy or insecure. Maybe he only did it because he saw other dogs do it earlier and wanted to try it? I don't know...

No, no, they do it to invite a shy or insecure dog to come over. A dog that struts around like Suka does may seem intimidating to some dogs. So he lays down to say "I'm not threatening. I'm totally friendly and just want to say hello!"

Watch next time and see what dogs he does this to. Did he try to approach them and they shied away/avoided eye contact/ignored him/walked a wide circle around him? Body language can be read all the way across the park, so Suka can probably tell quite quickly which dogs are approachable and which are not. And he's such a social butterfly that he probably wants to say hello to everyone!

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No, no, they do it to invite a shy or insecure dog to come over. A dog that struts around like Suka does may seem intimidating to some dogs. So he lays down to say "I'm not threatening. I'm totally friendly and just want to say hello!"

Watch next time and see what dogs he does this to. Did he try to approach them and they shied away/avoided eye contact/ignored him/walked a wide circle around him? Body language can be read all the way across the park, so Suka can probably tell quite quickly which dogs are approachable and which are not.

The last time I remember it him doing to, it was to an older golden retriever just coming into the par. He looked more dominant than Suka, I think, and didn't put up with him strutting around. They still had territory-marking matches, though. :P

The other dog (belong to the same 'pack' as the dominant golden) was pretty submissive...so he could have been doing that behaviour to either dog.

I think I actually have a video of that somewhere...I'll have to find it.

EDIT: Wait...I checked the video, and it was with a poodle. I'm uploading the video now. The golden retrievers were something else. :P

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bex0409

I take it to mean invitation most of the time. It's a more passive way of inviting another dog over than the play stance or just running up. It's a way of saying to an insecure or shy dog "I'm approachable and I'd like to meet you!"

Unless they are down in more of a crouch with their head tucked low and body stiff - then they could be waiting until the other dog gets close enough to pounce! I've only ever seen this with herding breeds, though, and it's usually to initiate play.

he's so confusing lol because that's what it seems like to me when he does it, I can tell its like I'm not scary I just want to meet u you and when the other dog comes over to him he will then stand up and they will stiff but this is with just some dogs, other dog ( usually big) he dosent evan bother going over sometimes, also sometimes he's that de dog he will just lie down and refuses to move and I cannot get him to come with me no matter how much I pull him( its rather embarrasing lol) and then yest on the field he went trunching over to this timid dog and started sniffing and then growled at him, I never know how he's going to be with every dog we pass

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