Canine Language

Wanting to understand how your dog thinks and feels must be high on most dog owners list, isn’t it? We all know their little quirky ways and habits, their ability to make you smile at those darn cute antics, but don’t you question ‘why’ sometimes? I do and even though I’ve studied it, you still sometimes think ‘what was that!’ as like anything, nobody can have all the answers and nobody should claim that they do, because actually there is so much to understand with dog body language and one of the most fundamental things, that no book can give you the answer to, is the environmental factor that caused the reaction.

So here are the key things to remember:

  • Always take into consideration the environmental context
  • Never assume that the body language has 1 single meaning
  • Take into account previous experiences, positive and negative, that may have impacted the dog
  • The more you watch your dog the better you’ll understand how he’s thinking and feeling.

The reason I point these out now is purely because there is so much to know about canine language that one blog isn't going to make you an expert. What I can do though is start giving you some foundations to build on that you can start experiencing and learning more from, then you’ll start to become more aware of what to look for.

I would say that firstly for you to start learning more about canine language you have to make sure you know your dog well and through this I mean you watch them and understand how they perceive the world around them, understand how they communicate to other dogs. Once you are more tuned into your dog you can start seeing the difference in how they react, be it positive or negative, to certain situations, people or dogs.

By watching how your dog reacts you can start to understand how your dog positions their body to indicate his feelings. So, for instance, a dog he’s not too familiar with is approaching, does he stand still to assess with tail straight up or tail between his legs? The latter, most of you will know, is associated with fear, but why do they do it? Basically dogs' brains will gather information through their biggest information gathering tool… that’s right, their nose. That’s why the first thing they will do when greeting another dog (if brave enough) is to have a sniff around the bottom. They can gauge how that other dog is feeling, their sex, their age and if they’re a threat, all from this information. So by tucking the tail safely over the area, they are protecting themselves by not disclosing this information to the other dog.

It can also indicate fear, but along with many other signals that the dog is telling you he’s feeling uncomfortable about the situation, like lip licking… this is an attributing sign along with even a yawn. Yes a yawn can indicate quite a few feelings and again, as I mentioned at the beginning, you always have to put it into environmental context. If they’re lying in their bed, relaxed and yawning, it’s unlikely they will be feeling particularly uncomfortable with the situation.

So here are your top tips to help you with your canine language:

  • Get to know your dog better by watching them and how the react to their environment
  • Be aware of stress triggers and try your best to alleviate rather than forcing the dog into situations
  • If you've only just had your puppy, now is a great time to start to learn about how your dog communicates with you. Watch them and be aware they’re watching you!

Essentially, my mission with my own dog and with dogs I work with is to alleviate the stress in their day-to-day lives, so at puppy stage it’s ideal as the more you can help them have positive experiences the better. You’re also in a great position to look how eager they are to communicate with the world around them. For adult dogs they will have been trying to communicate with you for a long time, it’s down to you to make sure you’re not missing those key signals.

So keep a close eye on your dogs, they are talking to you all the time through the best way they know how - their body language. So, if you’re wanting to ‘talk to your dog’ make sure you learn their language first!

Have a good week and see you next week!

Happy Fursday

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