Dr. Marc, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine blogs for pet insurance provider, Pets Best.
Just like people, dogs can communicate with each other and their environment. Unlike people, dogs do this largely without a ‘verbal’ language, but rather utilize body language. Even though many dogs have unique behavior characteristics that are individualized, certain body language is generally consistent with most canines. Understanding these cues can help you interpret how your dog may be feeling.
1) Playful, Frisky
This language says: “I want to play”, or that previous roughhousing was not construed as threatening. The body position will often resemble a ramp, with the head and torso are near the ground, and the back end is in the air. The tail is usually up and waging. Ears will be up and attentive, the mouth may be open.
Dogs in this state are generally at ease. They do not feel threatened by nearby activities. Dogs in a relaxed state are generally not directly engaged with others. These animals are usually approachable. Most of the time, the ears will be up without any forward press, the tails are down (not tucked), and their stance is loose with weight evenly distributed.
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3) Alert, Engaged
In the alert phase, dogs are usually investigating something of interest or determining a course of further action regarding an environmental stimulant. Tails are usually stretched out horizontally, and often straight back, but not puffed. Ears are perked and placed forward. The mouth is usually closed. They may give signs of gathering sensory information such as smelling the air, twitching or rotating the ears, or tracking something visually.
4) Dominant (aggressive)
Dominant aggressive animals vary from fearful aggressive animals in that they are full of confidence. These animals will attack if their dominance is challenged. The tail is usually stiff, raised, and puffed out. The body is usually shifted forward (more weight on front legs). These dogs may be growling with lips snarled and teeth exposed. Often their hackles are raised, especially near the neck.
5) Fearful (possibly aggressive)
Animals will generally cope with fear in one of two ways. The first is fearful aggressive, the second is fearful submissive. In the fearful aggressive animal, fear is the predominant feeling, though they may attack if the sense of danger exceeds their threshold. These dogs will have their bodies lowered and their tails tucked. The ears are usually back and tucked against the head. Their hackles may also be raised.
6) Fearful (submissive)
These animals are also in a state of fear or stress, however, it is unlikely these animals will attack unless their body language changes. These animals can vary from general worry to submission. In early phases, the ears are back against the head and the hackles are down. The tail is down, but not necessarily tucked. They may wag their tail briefly in its down position. The body is generally in a lowered position. During a greater sense of fear these animals may become submissive. In this state, dogs will often roll on their back, may urinate, and have their tails tucked. Most animals in all states of submissive fear will try to avoid making direct eye contact.
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