Dog body language: How to communicate with your pet

Posted by Betty. November 26th 2015.

Dogs can’t really talk. Some owners claim to have full-blown conversations with their beloved pets but, even with all the training in the world, the quality of chat is likely to be thin on the ground.

That is not to say, however, that your dog doesn’t communicate with you. Dog behaviour is often about them trying to convey a message.

Dog psychology assessments and studies into animal behaviour have shed more light on what dogs tell us with their body language.


A West Highland Terrier barks softly

Telling tails

We all know that a dog wags his or her tail when they are happy, right? Wrong.

Some wagging is indeed associated with positive feelings but, sometimes, it can be a sign that the dog is scared or angry.

Extensive research into dogs’ tail-wagging has thrown up a few interesting points – including a theory that different dogs display different ‘accents’ with their wagging.

Here are a few types of tail-wagging and some translations:

  • A small wag is usually tentative sign of “hello” or “I’m here!”
  • A wider wag is a friendly sign the dog is not challenging or “I’m pleased”
  • A slow wag at half-mast is less sociable greeting, a sign of caution or insecurity.
  • Short, sharp wags can be a sign the dog is about to run or fight. If the tail is in a high position, it can be a threat.


A cute Coonhound communicates with its owner

Dog body language

Aside from the position and movement of the tail, there are some other movements to look out for that will give you an idea of how your dog might be feeling.

One paw raised – the dog is not happy and does not want to be bothered.

‘Half-moon’ eye (where you can see a half moon of white in their eye) – your dog wants to be left alone. This is a common sign when the dog is being hugged but doesn’t want to be.

Other signs that your dog is not in a sociable mood include yawning when not tired, licking chops when there is no food nearby or sudden sniffing at the ground or other objects.

A safe place

It’s important your dog has a safe place, such as a basket or blanket to go to so he or she can calm down and get themselves together.

When displaying signs they’re not happy, don’t be tempted to fuss too much and take care to keep any children out of the way.

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