Body Language

Your dog has complex body language. The movements, postures, and positions of his head, ears, eyes, mouth, tongue, tail, and entire body can convey a variety of meanings. For example, a dog standing tall yet relaxed, with upright ears, open mouth, relaxed tongue, and wagging tail, exudes

Body Language Worried Dog

Bowing is a play invitation that can be given to canine or human playmates. Sandstorm November Rain JC, CGC, a Saluki, owned and bred by Kathy Morton.

confidence without aggression. Each body part, alone or with others, demonstrates what the dog is feeling.

Those feelings and postures can be enhanced by colorings or markings, especially on the face and tail. For example, when the eyes are outlined in black, with tan spots above the eyes, any movement of the eyes is exaggerated. This can make communicating with other dogs easier. Dogs lacking some of these markings, such as all-white or all-black dogs, are somewhat at a disadvantage and could potentially be misunderstood. A tailless dog, whether naturally tailless or docked, loses all the communication that a tail provides. Misunderstandings in the dog's world are often minor, primarily because dogs use more than one body part to convey emotions, but occasionally a fight can ensue.

When you understand what your dog is trying to convey to you through his body language, you can communicate better with him yourself. You can tailor your training techniques when you see that he's worried or frustrated; you can give him more confidence when you see that he's insecure or afraid; and you can applaud his efforts when he's accomplished something and is proud of himself.

♦ If your dog is fearful, he will lower his body almost to the ground, with elbows and hocks bent. His tail will be lowered, as will his head and ears. The tip of the tail may be wagging slightly. He may lick his nose.

♦ Very fearful dogs—those so afraid that they may bite if cornered or pushed too hard—will also have a lowered body posture. The head and ears will be lowered, and the back of the lips will be pulled back, making the dog almost look like he's smiling. The eyes may look forward at the potential threat and then glance away. The tail will be tucked, even up against the belly, and will be still.

♦ A submissive but not necessarily fearful dog may roll over and bare his belly. The tail may be tucked and still (if worried) or tucked and wagging (if simply submissive). The eyes will look away.

♦ A dominant dog—one with the potential to take his dominance too far (with the possibility of a bite or fight)—will have all his body language moving forward. He will be on the tips of his toes leaning forward, with his head forward and eyes staring hard at his object of interest. The ears will be lifted and facing forward, and the tail will be up and wagging slowly or stiffly, or still. His hackles will probably be up.

Bowing is a play invitation that can be given to canine or human playmates. Sandstorm November Rain JC, CGC, a Saluki, owned and bred by Kathy Morton.

♦ A confident dog who is interested or alert but has no need or desire to bite or fight will stand tall but also be relaxed. He will not be leaning forward. His head will be high but relaxed, with ears up and forward, and his hackles will be down. His tail will be wagging.

♦ An eager dog will not be standing still; he will dance, circle, or bounce up and down. His eyes will be toward you; his ears will be up and down, with openings toward you; and his tail will be wagging happily. He may lower his front end to bow, an invitation to play.

This is just a brief example of some body postures. Every breed and every individual dog has its own characteristics. For example, many herding breeds stare. This technique is used to control sheep and cattle, but herding dogs also learn to use it on their owners. Staring is usually an attention-getting device, because, when stared at, most owners respond, "What do you want?" and the dog could end up going for a walk or playing ball. In other breeds or dogs (such as guard and guardian dogs), a stare such as this could be a direct threat or the first step in aggression.

As you train your dog, you will learn to recognize other gestures. If your training is getting too serious, your dog may yawn at you. This is called a calming signal; your dog is basically saying, "Relax!" Some dogs, when they are getting frustrated or bored, will look away from you. This is the time to take a training break for a few minutes and rethink your training technique so that you can approach it from another angle. Watch your dog, get to know him, and use his means of communication to your advantage.

You may be using some of your dog's body language without knowing it because some stances are very similar to our own. A person who is confidant but not aggressive or pushy stands tall yet relaxed. A bully or pushy person who is trying to get his way stands tall and leans into people, invading personal space. A worrier pulls into himself, looks away without making eye contact, and uses small hand gestures.

You can communicate more easily with your dog if you copy some of your dog's body language, but just be careful that you are conveying the message you wish to share.

♦ If your dog is having a hard time with a new lesson, take some pressure off him. Instead of facing your dog straight on, turn so that you are at an angle, facing toward him and to the front. Make sure that your body language is relaxed, look at your dog (his paws, body, tail, face) without staring into his eyes, and smile. This conveys to him, "Hey, it's okay. No pressure!"

♦ If your dog is getting into trouble, especially when he understands that he's doing something your don't want him to do, stand tall, look him in the eye, and don't flinch. You have just conveyed your position as the dominant family member. Don't assume this position with a potentially aggressive dog, however; he will read it as a challenge!

♦ At the end of a training session, lift your hands high over your head, and then, with a big smile on your face, bring both hands down to your knees as you bend your body at the waist. You can also hop at the same time. You have just invited your dog to play!

Body Language

Body Language

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