Doggie Discourse II: Smiles & Poses
Picking up where we left off in the first Doggie Discourse Blog, a dog’s tail is not the only expressive part of his body. Dogs use their entire bodies to communicate! A solid understanding of dog body language is crucial to solving dog behavior problems. To really understand what your dog is trying to tell you, it’s important to read all the messages he is trying to send. Today, I want to give you a brief overview of general dog body language, and I also want to explain the meaning behind several common dog behaviors—the answers might surprise you!
Dogs use their size to communicate how they are feeling. For example, a dog that is submissive or scared will try to make himself look as small as he can. He will stay low to the ground and shrink into himself in order to look less threatening. A dog who is acting dominant or aggressive, however, will try to make himself look as big as he can. His ears will be up, he will be standing as straight as possible, and he will be leaning forward as if to say “I’m ready to go!” Always watch out for a dog who has raised hairs along the top of his back. This area is called the “hackles” and it is a telltale sign of dog aggression.
Dogs also use their faces to express many different emotions. I love it when Sadie “smiles;” that’s when I know she is relaxed and happy! Her mouth is slightly open and her tongue hangs out, while her ears and eyes are relaxed. Dogs can also “smile” in a way that indicates fear or aggression, and it’s important to learn how to differentiate between the two. When a dog is feeling aggressive, he will pull back his lips to show all of his teeth. This is his way of saying “get back, or I will bite!” When a dog is being very submissive, he will make a similar “smiling” face, and it’s important to understand how this expression differentiates from an aggressive expression. When a dog has a submissive “smile,” he will also open his mouth to show his teeth, but instead of displaying all of his teeth, he will just show the front set. When trying to decide if a dog is being aggressive or submissive with his smile, look at his body language and tail language. Once you know the signs, his intentions should be obvious!
Our first instinct when a dog yawns is to say “Awww, Fido’s tired!” Unlike humans, a dog yawn is not always an expression of tiredness or boredom. Dogs often yawn when they are stressed or anxious about something, if they are thinking or trying to figure something out. Sometimes dogs yawn as a way to release their own tense feelings or as a “peace offering” to diffuse a tense situation with another dog.
Another canine misbehavior that has many meanings is licking. A lick can mean a variety of things, depending on the circumstances and the rest of your dog’s body language. A lick may be a sign of submission. Puppies will sometimes lick their mother’s face if they are hungry, so a dog licking your face may have the same meaning. Sometimes dogs will lick out of nervousness or anxiety. If a dog has learned that he gets attention when he licks, he could be doing it for that purpose as well!
When a dog “bows” to you or another dog, that is his way of saying that he wants to play. A dog bow is when a dog puts its rear into the air while lowering the front part of its body to the ground, often accompanied by a friendly tail wag. The bow is a way for a dog to let another dog know during play that he means no harm.
I hope that this information (and the information in Doggie Discourse part 1) helps you to better understand what your dog is trying to communicate. Stay tuned for Doggie Discourse part 3, which is all about what dogs can understand from our language!
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