It’s almost summer! Kids will be home for break and outside playing. Dogs will also be spending more time outside and interacting with family members, friends, and the herds of kiddos running around like hooligans. It’s time to brush up on how to read dog body language—and make sure the kids understand it, too. While there are lots of subtle and nuanced signs your dog may show, I’m going to touch on just the essentials in your dog’s three main communication zones.
Dog Body Language, Zone 1: The Head – Focus on Eyes and Ears
Eyes: The most common eye expression of a dog who’s uncomfortable and may be thinking about biting is commonly referred to as “whale eye.” Whale eye is when the dog’s eyes are wide open, and the whites of the eye can be seen. If a dog is giving you the whale eye, it’s time to give him some space.
Ears: A dog’s natural ear position should be relaxed and mobile. Dogs with ears that are pinned back or pricked forward are letting us know that they are feeling something other than “neutral.” Take the time to figure out what your dog’s ears are telling you and respect the emotion that’s being displayed.
Dog Body Language, Zone 2: The Posture
A dog’s posture can give us a quick way to identify how he feels about his environment and himself from moment to moment. His “neutral” position will be centered and relaxed. When you see a dog who’s positioned up/forward over his toes or down/backward over his haunches, you can be sure that he’s in an emotional state that should be considered carefully before moving forward toward him.
Dog Body Language, Zone 3: The Tail
Most of us were raised to think that a dog with a wagging tail is happy and friendly. However, this isn’t necessarily true. The position of the tail, the speed of any wagging, and muscle tension in the tail and rear end of the dog are all ways to read what he’s feeling. A “neutral” tail position is relaxed and either slowly wagging or loosely moving with your dog’s body. A tail held high and stiff, wagging fast and tight, or tucked under the dog are all possible signs of distress, anxiety, arousal, or fear.
The Whole Picture
By putting dog body language clues together, you can learn to identify your dog’s emotions, and moods. By studying more details of what dogs’ body language may be saying, you can decrease the chances of being injured by a dog bite. I encourage you to take the time to educate yourself and enrich your relationship with your pet!