Being able to read your furry friend's body language can mean the difference between a friendly encounter and an unpleasant run-in. World-famous dog whisperer Cesar Millan shares tips on how to identify your dog's body language in his book, Cesar Millan's Short Guide to a Happy Dog.
It's difficult to tell how a dog is feeling when it's unable to speak for itself. This is why body language plays an important role in gauging a dog's personality and emotions. We turn to dog expert Cesar Millan, who, after nine seasons of Dog Whisperer and several best selling books, delves once again into the world of canines with Cesar Millan's Short Guide to a Happy Dog.
In his latest book, Millan outlines a dog's basic body language to help determine if it is calm and happy or simply wants to be left alone. Here are some signs to look for:
When a dog is calm and assertive, her head, ears, and tail will be held up, but there will be a lack of tension in the body. If she wags her tail, it will be slow to moderate in speed, and rhythmic. A dog in this state will be deliberate in her movements, either remaining still without pacing, or moving forward with purpose. Remember, though, because very few dogs are born to lead, you will meet very few dogs in this energy state.
When a dog is calm and submissive, her ears will lie back against her head and the tail will droop to the middle position. Her body will appear relaxed. A calm, submissive dog will also frequently sit or lie down, with the most submissive dog placing her chin on her paws or the floor. A submissive dog may begin wagging her tail when you make eye contact.
An aggressive dog shows all the signs of a calm, assertive dog, except that her body will be very tense and tight, almost as if she were leaning forward against a physical restraint. An aggressive dog will also maintain eye contact.
Some aggressive dogs show the more obvious signs of growling, baring their teeth, or barking, but do not let the absence of these things lead you to believe that the dog won't snap or bite. If the body language is tight and tense, leave the dog alone. If the tail is wagging, don't assume this means the dog is friendly. Aggressive dogs will often raise their tail very high and wag it very fast.
Fear and Anxiety
A fearful dog, if he doesn't run away, will try to become smaller. He does this by lowering his head and ears, slouching his body, and bending his legs. A fearful dog will usually hold his tail at the lowest position, often between the back legs (that's where the expression "running away with his tail between his legs" comes from). As with an aggressive dog, the tail may also wag rapidly, but while in this lowered position.
In some breeds, a fearful dog may raise his hackles, a wide ridge of fur down the center of the back that stands on end. This was originally intended to make the dog look bigger and scare off predators. In some cases, a fearful dog may squint, to protect his eyes. This action may even extend to the upper lip curling to expose the teeth. However, as with an aggressive dog's fast wagging tail, this sign does not mean what it might appear to. In the case of a fearful dog, the teeth-baring is a sign of submission and the result of the dog's entire face scrunching up.
"Leave Me Alone"
Regardless of their current energy or mood, some dogs just don't want to be approached by a human at times, and they will let you know. Most frequently, a dog will just turn around and walk away from you. If a dog does this, do not follow after it. Remember: Followers come to their leader. If you follow the dog, then you are not being the Pack Leader. You are also not respecting its wishes.
Other ways a dog will let you know she is not interested is in avoiding eye contact, by turning her head to the side. She may also raise her tail but be inconsistent with the position of her head and ears, due to uncertainty. A dog that does not want to be approached may also remain very still and stiff, as if by not moving she will become invisible to you. At the most extreme levels of warning, a dog may smack her lips or growl to send the message, "Leave me alone."
By learning to read dogs' body language, you will improve your ability to communicate with them by understanding what they are telling you, as well as being better able to use your calm, assertive energy to redirect their instincts and get the behaviour you want.
Excerpted from Cesar Millan's Short Guide To A Happy Dog, copyright 2012 by Cesar Millan. Used by permission of National Geographic Society. All Rights Reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.