Approximate reading time: 15 minutes
The dog is a gregarious animal in its social behavior, it needs to interact with other individuals, and for this reason it has developed different gestures and postures to be able to express what it feels and what its intentions are in order to live together in a community.
In this article we will review the meaning of the most expressive postures in the body language of dogs and how the tail and ears influence the canine communication of the dog.
The dog's sign language closely resembles that of the wolf. However, facial features, body dimensions and shapes, and hair length have changed so much in the dog that it is now much more difficult to recognize gestures.
Dogs have the same abilities and the same social rules as wolves to communicate and avoid conflicts, although the behavior of wolves is much more intense given the characteristics of their habitat and their living conditions. Normally dogs are not in the same danger as wolves, so they do not need to magnify their gestures and their expressions are more subtle and delicate.
We have made 25 illustrations inspired by our Australian Cobberdog therapy dogs to represent the most characteristic postures of dogs, although some -those that show aggressiveness- are especially difficult to see in an Australian Cobberdog since they are very peaceful dogs. The interesting thing is that through these images we can show what the body language of dogs is like in a breed with long hair and floppy ears, which makes their gestures more subtle than in breeds more similar to wolves.
The basic invitation of a dog that wants to play is to bow by flexing the front legs by lowering the middle of its body, while the hind legs are kept raised. His tail will be raised, and he will move from side to side while his mouth remains open with his tongue sticking out. This posture may be accompanied by excited barking or playful attacks and withdrawals. This set of canine signals can be used as a kind of signal to indicate that any previous tense behavior is not understood as a threat or challenge.
The dog is so carefree that he does not hesitate to show his belly to the person who is petting him. He can also show himself like this while he is playing. Many confident dogs, and especially puppies, adopt this posture to play from the ground. It is a position that reflects a deep confidence since the dog is completely exposed.
Not to be confused with a similar pose showing intense terror: the dog also shows its belly but has its tail between its legs and its head to one side and its eyes closed as it remains motionless. It is a dog's way of surrendering to what he considers a death threat.
The dog is relaxed, watching. His ears are relaxed, as is his tail, his gaze is calm, and he has no intention of initiating any action. It is a posture that dogs tend to adopt when they are not part of the action that is happening around them and they are simply behaving as spectators of something that is not unusual. They can also take this position when they are waiting for their owner to finish something.
The dog is calm and confident, and being on its four legs, it is possibly waiting for you to interact with it, and if it does not happen, it will take the initiative. Generally, when a dog is relaxed and calm, anyone can tell by his relaxed posture and neutral expression on his face. His ears will be in the normal position for each breed, his tail will hang rather low, his mouth slightly open and his tongue stick out if the dog tends to pant, and his body will generally appear neither stooped nor stretched out. Your eyes may be half-closed, and your neck and nose muscles will feel relaxed. The dog is relaxed and does not feel threatened by the surrounding environment and can be interacted with.
The dog wags its tail energetically as it moves forward and has open but relaxed eyes, head high, ears pricked, and mouth open and relaxed. He shows enthusiasm before an event that pleases him. We must avoid confusing the movement of the tail with a synonym of joy, since the dog's intention is reflected by taking into account the rest of his gestures. The dog may also wag its tail excitedly when in protective mode or before initiating an attack. In these cases, the dog will wag his tail while showing tension in his body.
The dog has detected something unusual, although it does not appear to be a threat. It stands on its four legs with its tail raised, ears erect, and mouth closed. He is assessing the situation and deciding what to do. His next reaction can be positive (he sees that something unusual is harmless and goes closer or relaxes again) or negative (he sees that it is a threat or something he cannot identify and becomes defensive by barking or stalking).
The dog acquires a posture of maximum attention before something that is unusual. He has a tense tail, his legs are ready to start a race (hunt) or escape, one of his legs is raised pointing towards the source that generates his attention, his mouth is closed and his ears are erect forward. This posture reveals an evaluation situation where the dog feels especially strange and requires concentration.
The dog lies on the ground, but with tension. He is attentive with his ears pricked and ready to get up if he sees it necessary. Dogs generally adopt this stance when another dog approaches them and they want to show his non-confrontational intent by lowering his hierarchy to the ground. They can accompany this posture with backward head turns or nose licking.
The dog can be standing or sitting and the most characteristic feature is its head tilted to the side and its ears erect. The dog is witnessing something that he is trying to understand, something unusual that he does not make sense of. It could be a strange attitude of the owner of it, a striking oscillating sound or something that moves erratically. The dog does not feel threatened but does not know how to act either.
This posture is typical when the dog asks you for something to eat, although he can also use it to express his desire that you throw him the ball, take him for a walk or whatever else he wants. The dog sits and looks at you with pricked ears and wide eyes revealing the whites of his eyes. Generally it is a gesture that they only use with humans to beg them for something.
The dog moves by lowering its body and head, with its ears forward with full attention to what is moving. Something has caught his attention and he wants to find out what it is. He doesn't seem like enough of a threat to her to stay out of it, but he's not sure what he's going to find either. If what he is approaching moves or does something unexpected, it is very likely that he will run away or, on the contrary, launch to catch it, depending on the temperament and situation of each dog.
This may not seem like a gesture or posture to you, but it is often a way of communicating the dog's nervousness. It is very common when the dog goes to the vet, or to the hairdresser. Also when the time to get ready to go outside is too long. The dog gets nervous and sneezes. Obviously sneezing can also be a symptom of a cold. Analyze the situation, and if you think your dog was in a situation that could make him nervous and he hasn't sneezed before, that means he doesn't have a cold.
When a dog stretches by extending his front legs and shifting his weight onto his rear legs which are held up, he may simply want to move the muscles after a nap, but if it occurs during a situation where the dog is uncomfortable what What he's doing is trying to express to another dog or human that he doesn't want trouble and it's his way of saying "relax". This gesture can be combined with a yawn to more effusively show his intention of not wanting trouble.
Although licking the nose is something that dogs do frequently throughout the day, since keeping it moist is beneficial for their sense of smell, if this gesture occurs during a situation that makes the dog uncomfortable, it can express just that. It is also a way of communicating to another dog or person that you don't want any trouble, and that the situation should be relaxed. This gesture usually appears when a dog detects another, and stares at it and communicates its intention of non-conflict with its tongue. Although you can also see him when there is a lot of noise around him and he wants to leave, when many people are touching him, or any other situation that may cause him discomfort.
Dogs shake themselves often, after getting out of the water or after a nap, but if you see your dog doing it during a time when he has been nervous, what he is doing is redirecting the stress that the situation has generated and freeing himself of him with this gesture. Sometimes, if the situation makes them very nervous, they may shake compulsively since they are not able to calm themselves by shaking and insistently try shaking again.
A dog can yawn from sleep, but it is usually a gesture that they often use when something bothers them, displeases them or makes them feel insecure. With the yawn they try to communicate that they do not like how the situation is going, and with it they express to the other dog or person their need to calm down. Just like when they shake, it is also a gesture that relieves stress.
Dog Posture 17: Body Thrown Back - Lack of Collaboration
When a dog throws all of its weight back by retracting, it shows a high level of insecurity about what is going on and would probably have already fled the scene given the opportunity to do so. It is a typical posture of puppies when they find something new. If your dog is tied to the leash and takes this position, be clear that what you want him to do is something that he does not want under any circumstances. You can see him do this if you insist that he meet another dog that scares him, if you are trying to get him into the bathroom or if he is afraid of firecrackers and you want to take him outside, for example.
Of course dogs can be calm and scratch. But if the dog is in a stressful situation, he is likely to scratch, and sometimes compulsively. It is similar to when we humans are in an uncomfortable situation and we scratch the back of the head, or the nose. It reflects concern about the situation. For example, if your dog is nervous about waiting while you prepare his food, you may notice that he begins to scratch. He's probably channeling that nervousness of having to wait for something he wants so badly.
When a dog intentionally turns his head back, what he is doing is looking away to express that he doesn't want trouble. It is a gesture of appeasement in front of another dog that is in a dominant attitude or a human that intimidates him. Usually this gesture is accompanied by others, such as licking the nose, yawning, scratching. It is very common to see it when the dog is watching another dog that is approaching him and suddenly turns his head and then looks again.
It is a gesture that the dog uses in a similar way to scratching. The situation makes him uncomfortable and makes him feel insecure and by sniffing he channels that stress. Since dogs sniff very often, the most obvious way to see this sign as a form of body language is when it occurs in isolation in a situation where it doesn't make much sense for the dog to need to sniff the ground. For example, when you see another dog approaching you and you are very alert to him and suddenly his head drops down to sniff the ground. It doesn't make sense to redirect his attention to another scent when his focus is on the other dog. Clearly, the dog is channeling his uneasiness to the unknown dog.
It is a gesture that male dogs usually make when they meet another dog. Like sniffing, marking with urine is not a need that arises at that moment, but rather an impulse that reflects his discomfort with the situation of meeting a dog that he does not know how he is going to react. Marking releases stress on the one hand, and makes a statement to the other dog on the other.
When the dog detects something threatening, the fur on its back can instinctively stand on end, like us when we get goosebumps. The dog is shown with its head stretched out towards something that is threatening, its tail is stretched out, its ears are upright and the hairs rise up on its back forming a crest (something that is better perceived in dogs with short or medium hair). . It seems that with this effect, the dog appears to be larger and thus has a better chance of dissuading the threat from leaving.
A dog that feels sure of himself, if he is trying to exercise some kind of authority or to dominate another dog or human, will try to appear to the other as corpulent and strong as possible, with erect ears, bristling hair, head and neck straightened and body generally slightly arched and ready to attack. If he also holds his tail up, frowns, and shows his teeth, he is not only expressing his social dominance, but he is also threatening the potential threat and could act aggressively if challenged.
The dog that is afraid of another dog or person will put on his puppy face trying to make it as round as possible, with his ears back, soft forehead, trying to lick the threat and his eye contact will be indirect. The body will be lowered, the tail between the legs, and one leg may be raised. It is likely to sweat and leave traces of sweat on the floor. You can also urinate. These signals are designed to appease the individual who is of higher social status than him or the dogs he sees as a potential threat, in order to avoid any further challenge or conflict.
When a dog is frightened but not submissive and may attack if challenged, it is shown with ruffled hair, body lowered, ears back, nose wrinkled, teeth visible, corners of the mouth pushed back, and tail between the tails. legs. A dog usually gives these canine body signals when he comes face to face with the person or animal that is threatening him. If the threat does not cease, it is likely to attack.
The communication of dogs through the tail
The dog's tail often clearly expresses the dog's mood and intentions, although its movement is a frequently misunderstood signal. Most people think that a wagging tail just means the dog is happy, and it often is, but some dogs also wag their tails when they're nervous, overexcited, and frustrated.
Another very important element in the body language of dogs are the ears. Along with the tail, the ears express the state in which the dog is and, unlike the tail, they do not usually move deliberately to communicate to another individual, but rather it is a reflection of how the dog feels. To make a comparison with humans, ears would be to dogs what eyebrows are to people.
Some dogs have pricked ears, like wolves, and others have floppy ears like the Australian Cobberdog. In the first case, it is usually easier to visualize the different positions and movements that the ear makes, but if the dog has drooping ears, we must look at the beginning of the ear, which will be the one that marks the movement.
The tail and ears are very important for balance and signaling, so the practice of completely or partially amputating the tail or ears greatly impairs the dog's communication. The tail and ears reflect the emotions of a dog to such an extent that when they are amputated, the animal is almost completely deprived of the ability to express itself and communicate. Tail docking should never be done except for health reasons.