Dogs use body language to communicate with other dogs. They use their head, eyes, eyebrows, teeth, wrinkles, ears, tails, hackles and body position to display emotion and intent to other dogs. These signs can be very subtle and change very quickly.
Why is it Important for Humans to Understand How Dogs Communicate?
It is important for us as humans to understand how dogs communicate with each other so that we can interpret their body language and prevent dangerous or fearful situations from occurring.
It also allows us to become aware of things that make our dogs happy, playful, angry or fearful. Being able to understand a dog’s body language helps us to build stronger bonds in our relationships with our dogs.
Understanding a Dog’s Emotions Through Body Language
Let’s first examine how friendly dogs may appear. Friendly dogs seeks affection. They are socially attracted to people and other dogs. Their tails wag slowly and playfully. They present with relaxed mouths, relaxed eyes, ears back and relaxed bodies. A friendly, playful dog would signal that he or she wants to play using bows and a bouncy behaviour. He or she may bum check to initiate play.
A non-social dog, on the other hand, would not seek affection and would likely ignore humans or other dogs. His or her body would be very still. You would see relatively little tail wag. He or she may look stressed.
If a dog is stressed you will notice that his or her tail is down, ears back and body posture is low. He or she may be panting rapidly, have dilated pupils and sweaty paws. Important stress signals to be aware of that may lead to aggression are yawning, lip licking, drooling, half-moon eye (white of eye appearing in moon shape), avoidance of eye contact, highly aroused state and raised hackles.
If a dog is stressed it may be because he is fearful of another dog, human or situation. If your dog is afraid he will likely have his tail between his legs , flattened ears, curled lips, dilated pupils, low body posture or raised hackles.
Signs of Potential Aggression in Dogs
A dog may move beyond the point of stress if whatever is causing the stress continues. Signs that the dog is on the verge of aggression are freezing, stiffness, direct start, subtle lip lift and growling.
Major indicators that a dog may bite are lip licking, freezing, direct start and half-moon eyes.
Dominant vs Submissive Personalities
Dominant dogs tend to have a stiff, tall body posture and lean forward. They show direct eye contact, ears are forward and alert. Dominant dogs tend to be persistent on nagging on another dog or dogs in the dog park. They also tend to be the dogs who jump on a hump other dogs.
In contrast, submissive dogs tend to have a low tail carriage, low body posture, and roll on their back. They have lowered ears, flattened foreheads and face licking.
It takes more than just simply understanding the body language of dogs to be able to know when to react to a situation. Just because your dog freezes and stares at another dog it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to attack a dog. Also, a wagging tail doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog is happy and wants you to pat them. Yawning can mean your dog is tired but it can also mean your dog is stressed. You must take the context and situation into account when interpreting your dog’s body language.