By Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best Pet Insurance, a puppy and dog health insurance agency.
In order to properly read your dog’s mood, you need to consider the entire package that includes body language, postures, vocalizations and actions. And, you need factor in the current environment or situation to put all of these canine clues into context.
Just like us, dogs feel joy, fear, pain and contentment. So how can you tell if your dog is being affectionate, aggressive or feeling anxious? Here’s a closer look at these three canine emotions:
Emotion #1: Affection
What to look for: Dogs do have favorite people, including you. They convey this love-you emotion by delivering kisses to your face or hand, wagging their tails in a relaxed circular cadence, flipping over to expose their bellies, following you in a happy trot from room to room and greeting you when you enter the front door like you’re a rock star.
How to respond: Greet your dog by saying his name in a friendly, upbeat tone. Treat your dog to one-minute attention sessions in which you focus entirely on your dog and deliver purposely pets from head to tail. Make him feel like a rock star and his loyalty and love for you will grow.
Emotion #2: Aggression
What to look for: Aggressive runs the gamut from being fear-related, territorial, protective of resources, pain-related to a medical condition or injury. A dog full of ire or in pain gives warning signals before lunging or biting. Look for a tensing of the muscles, forwarding or flattening of the ears, prolonged staring, upper lip lifting to reveal teeth, raised hair (hackles) on the spine and body leaning forward. In some instances, the dog will also snarl or grow.
How to respond: Heed these warning signs and never approach a strange dog quickly. He is clearly conveying a “back off” message. If your normally sweet dog displays aggressive behavior at his food bowl or when chewing on a bone, he is exhibiting resource guarding that needs to be addressed with behavior modification techniques. Work with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to correct this potentially dangerous behavior. Never physically hit an aggressive dog because such action may escalate this behavior and seriously impact your relationship, making him mistrust you.
Emotion #3: Anxiety (Stress)
What to look for: When faced with circumstances beyond their control (including a visit to the veterinary clinic), anxious dogs tend to hide, vocalize and even pant or whine. They may also display their fear by trembling, pacing, tucking their tails, avoiding eye contact, yawning, blinking excessively and clinging to a trusted person.
How to respond: In extreme cases, a veterinarian may temporarily prescribe anti-anxiety medication coupled with behavior modification designed to make this anxious dog feel safer at home and outside. Avoid talking in cooing tones or baby talk, as these vocalizations may cause your dog to feel more nervous and anxious. Cultivate a safe routine for your dog by teaching him to sit and stay in a designated spot and rewarding him with a healthy treat and gentle affection. Set him up for success by giving him ample time to acclimate to new family members or changes in the household routine.
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