The ability to interpret dog body language is an invaluable tool in training your dog. The way your dog carries himself, his ear and tail positioning, and even subtle facial expressions all provide insight into what your dog is thinking. If you’re able to read these signals properly, you’ll understand your dog’s personality and your bond with him will deepen. Some of the best trainers in the world consider dog training a form of art. Understanding your dog’s body language can help you master this art.
Body positions and their meaning
What follows is a list of emotional states and the different postures associated with them. Keep in mind that these are general descriptions. Your dog may show subtle variations due to personality or breed that can give you greater insight into how he feels.
Peaceful and Relaxed
The body position is level. The ears are generally up and slightly back and the tail is curved down and carried loosely. The dog may have his mouth open and be panting. This is the standard position of a relaxed dog.
Attentive or Aroused
An attentive dog usually pricks up his ears. His tail begins to wag lightly and the panting may stop. In this state, the dog may cock his head to the side or lift a front paw in anticipation. You may be able to see signs of concentration or attention in his eyes.
Playful or Friendly
This body language is easily recognized. The dog lowers the front of his body so that his chest touches the ground, his hind-end raises, and he wags his tail furiously. He may bark and jump from side to side ready to chase after any toy you throw his way.
If a dog feels threatened, he may adopt an aggressive posture. His ears stand forward and his mouth opens slightly. The upper lip might curl back to reveal his teeth. His tail is straight up or curled over the back. The hackles, i.e. the area just over the front shoulders, are inflated to give a larger appearance. The eyes may also darken and become piercing. As aggression increases, the expression of it intensifies.
The posture of a fearful dog involves a confusing mix of aggressive and submissive expressions. The hackles may be raised and the teeth partially exposed, however, the head is usually lowered with the ears pulled back. Also, the dog looks with glazed eyes away from the source of the fear with his tail tucked between his legs. You should take extra caution with such a dog as he may bite out of fear.
Expressing Loyalty or Greeting
The body language here is generally known as active submission. The dog’s undercarriage is kept low to the ground, his ears are laid back against the head, his mouth has what looks like a grin, and his tail is down or tucked between the legs. It’s similar to the fearful posture, however, there are no signs of aggression here such as the raised lip and hackles. The dog may also urinate to express a greater sense of submissiveness.
Vulnerable or Helpless
Here the dog lies on his side to expose his belly and genitals while his front paws are brought up under his chin. His tail is tightly tucked between the legs and his eyes look away from the source of dominance. This posture of passive submission allows a dog to appear smaller than he is. While active submission has a tone of friendliness or enthusiasm, passive submission is more a gesture of complete surrender.
The more sensitive you are to dog body language, the better equipped you’ll be to read your dog’s thoughts and feelings. That’s when your training can become truly effective, when there’s a dialogue.